Business & Finance
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4/2/2004
05:55 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Business Technology: From Transparency To Corporate Nakedness

Oh, the rigors of this job. Spent all of last week in Florida at five-star hotels attending two conferences focused on business-technology executives (our own InformationWeek Spring Conference and then the Oracle CIO Executive Summit) ... had to choke down a few of those 7-inch-diameter cookies that seem to pop into existence only for 15 minutes at a time on tables outside ballrooms at 10:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. ... sparked flood warnings throughout the state by hitting several thousand golf balls into lakes, ponds, streams, oceans, swimming pools, bathtubs, and car washes ... heard former President George H.W. Bush describe with glee how he and three of his grandchildren are going to arrive at his upcoming 80th birthday party via parachute jump from an airplane ... and sat in awe, humbled and enchanted, as former astronaut Andrew Allen talked of flying the space shuttle at 17,500 mph, circling the globe in 90 minutes and growing 2-3/4 inches during each 16-day journey.

OTHER VOICES
The bottom line is clear: The privacy battalions oppose not just particular technologies, but technological innovation itself. Any effort to use computerized information more efficiently will be tarred with the predictable buzzwords: "surveillance," "Orwellian," "Poindexter." This Luddite approach to counterterrorism could not be more ominous.

--Heather Mac Donald, The Wall Street Journal, April 1


The week also featured InformationWeek's chief of the year, Roy Dunbar of Eli Lilly, who described at our conference how companies can align their human and civic values with corporate value--it's not for every company, he said, but for those that can strike the balance, the approach can become an extraordinary asset. Having been promoted late last year from CIO to president of a huge portion of Lilly's global business, Dunbar also said that his extensive travels throughout the world have shown him that only in the United States are college students beginning to aggressively blend disciplines--computer science and business, mathematics and marketing, informatics and biology--that will give them new and higher-value skills with which to compete for jobs in coming years. And as enchanting as it is to listen to Roy, it was perhaps even more unforgettable to meet his father, who said that beginning when his son was very young, "I always told him that if you want to think great things, then you must first read about the great thinkers: Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein. If you want to go a long way yourself, you have to understand the great thinkers who have come before us."

One theme that spanned both events was information transparency: the understanding that in a world where the amount of information is exploding, and the access to that information is multiplying rapidly, and the mind-set of people seeking that information is to hold off making decisions until they have enough of it, it behooves businesses to make available as much as is appropriate as quickly as possible. At the InformationWeek Spring Conference, it came out in a number of sessions, but perhaps most clearly when Hilton Hotels executive Tom Keltner said, "Until not very long ago, the airlines depended on the ignorance of their customers for their success. ... For us, we've gotta assume that our customers have perfect information, and we have to recognize that and act accordingly. And that gets at the whole question of, what does a brand represent?"

At the Oracle event, consultant and author Don Tapscott described it in the context of his new book: The Naked Corporation: How The Age Of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business. Noting at one point in his excellent presentation that "since you're going to be naked, you'd better be buff," Tapscott advocated that this new openness can be a source of powerful change because it forces organizations to leave behind the internal silos and politics and muddled thinking and instead focus completely on doing the right thing for customers. Who could argue with that?

But getting to this naked state isn't just a matter of shucking your britches. As Kenneth Washington of Sandia National Laboratories later asked, "I understand the possible benefits, but as a classified research facility, how do we get naked while also being secure?"

Sounds like an idea for another conference.

Bob Evans
Editorial Director
bevans@cmp.com


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