Business & Finance
Commentary
12/29/2005
05:30 PM
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Secret CIO: Resist Temptation: Don't Push That Hot Button

Our country's political discourse is interesting in a perverse sort of way. The dialogue is reminiscent of what happens during my company's executive committee budget-review meetings. In both processes, participants spend a huge amount of time on arguments aimed at fixing the blame for what went wrong while concurrently trying to grab the credit for what little has gone right.

Our country's political discourse is interesting in a perverse sort of way. The dialogue is reminiscent of what happens during my company's executive committee budget-review meetings. In both processes, participants spend a huge amount of time on arguments aimed at fixing the blame for what went wrong while concurrently trying to grab the credit for what little has gone right. Whether I'm watching the news or warily listening to my colleagues, I get this convoluted image of people racing away from something radioactive while simultaneously pushing to join the angels who get to dance on that rare pinhead of success. If Puccini were still alive, I wonder if he could make an opera out of it instead of obsessing about love and killing off the beautiful soprano.

This line of thought came to me because I read recently about various national policy debates, several of which touch more than lightly on information technology. Two examples: the increasing incidence of identity theft and the need for computerized medical information. In each, I get the sense that legislators are so busy trying to score political advantage they wind up rewarding the culprits.

Identity theft is big business with increasing use of the Internet for banking and buying. Thieves obtain enough personal information about a person, set up credit accounts where they buy merchandise, and then disappear, leaving an individual to fend off the bills and sometimes spend months or years restoring his or her good name and credit.

We in IT work feverishly to stop this fraud while having to be part of the arguments about trade-offs of customer convenience and security. What we don't do is ever consider that while we're busy doing so, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit bureaus, merrily continue to make lots of money selling credit information to merchants who are very happy to give credit to new customers, some of whom might be these very same thieves who are using our names. Why aren't the credit bureaus required, as their default option, to refuse to release information unless they notify us at our registered address? It obviously wouldn't eliminate all identity theft, but it would decrease it.

Computerized medical records would reduce errors, expedite patient care, and lower record-keeping costs. Another benefit would be that you and I would no longer have to fill out that stupid form listing our childhood diseases every time we go to a new doctor.

There are major advantages for everyone involved--the patient, the doctor, and the insurance provider--but adoption is slow. The issues are security, who decides on a standardized format, how mandatory it is, and, most of all, who pays. Congress has a big stake in the answer since taxes fund a great deal of our health care either directly or through deductions, but it so far has avoided facilitating a comprehensive solution. No doubt, our elected representatives have concluded that spending time resolving this one, like deciding how to keep Social Security solvent, isn't going to help their re-election campaigns. In the meantime, the nation doesn't get the full benefit of its medical prowess.

Technology can go a long way toward ameliorating some of society's rough spots, but we, and the people we elect, must focus on the issues rather than personal or political hot buttons. It's to the benefit of those who don't want change to sit quietly while we miss the point. It's to our benefit to refuse to allow that to happen.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at lovelace@comcast.net


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page.

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