Technology To The Rescue

IT will help solve the biggest problems at home and abroad, Fiorina says

Carly Fiorina, chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, put her career on the line two years ago when she spearheaded one of the largest corporate acquisitions in the history of the technology industry: HP's buyout of Compaq. She's spent much of the past two years ensuring that the merging of the two companies' cultures and technologies went smoothly. The first solid results showed up in fiscal 2003, when HP reported its first annual profit since buying Compaq.

Now Fiorina is running a much larger company that's offering a fresh way of looking at technology. "As technology moves from the fringe to the core of people's lives and businesses, the need for technology to deliver more becomes increasingly important," she said in an E-mail interview. "Customers are no longer willing to choose between lower price and higher functionality or to trade speed and flexibility for quality and reliability."

Carly Fiorina

Digital content in homes will make technology more accessible to young people, Fiorina says.

Photo by Darren Gygi
In many ways, technology in 2004 is no longer the novelty it was in 2000. "It's now vital, pervasive, and central to every business, every life, and to all the most fundamental problems and opportunities we face as a society," she said.

In fact, most of the challenges that the United States and most other nations face this year, whether it's homeland security, education, or health care, won't be solved without the application of technology. "In developing economies, governments, customers, and people know that technology is also at the heart of their ability to participate in the global economy and compete."

Fiorina sees several technologies taking center stage this year, in particular radio-frequency identification, Wi-Fi, and systems that deliver a variety of digital content to the home. "RFID has huge potential to automate the supply chain, significantly reducing manual intervention and eliminating inefficiencies from the process," she said. "Wi-Fi's capability to let you do whatever it is you want or need to do without being tethered to a specific location will truly begin to open up possibilities for how and where we schedule our days."

But perhaps the greatest influence technology will have in the coming year is extending this wireless phenomenon into the home to digital entertainment technologies such as cameras, televisions, and digital recorders. "These systems will not only become more intelligent and aware, but they're also beginning to speak common languages," Fiorina said.

The growth of digital content in people's homes will also serve to make technology more accessible to younger generations. Technology represents options, perhaps the most important thing you can offer young people, Fiorina said. "The Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once said, 'Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms--to choose one's own way.'"

Fiorina's views are well known regarding the need for the United States to spend money to cultivate tomorrow's technologists. "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore," Fiorina wrote in a January report by the Computer Systems Policy Project, a consortium that includes Dell, HP, and IBM. "We have to compete for jobs."

She believes that a well-educated workforce is one of the keys to the United States remaining competitive as emerging nations produce highly qualified technology professionals. "The risk or potential downside is that companies and countries invest in protectionism rather than in education, R&D, and infrastructure to ensure competitiveness," she said. "In this interdependent global economy, competitiveness drives growth, growth drives jobs and opportunity."

With much of the weight of a $73 billion company on her shoulders, Fiorina often must combine her career and personal goals. One of those goals is closing the gap between countries empowered by technology and those excluded by technology. "In 2004, I hope to visit several more [emerging countries], because I believe that nobody is in a better position than corporations to partner with social entrepreneurs and change agents to create a more sustainable future for us all," she said.

"The vast potential of technology to bring social and economic progress has never been greater," she said. "A decade from now, we're either going to be able to tell a glorious story of empowerment and opportunity, or we're going to look back on missed opportunities and talk about what might have been."

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