20 Years of Following the CIO

IT has come a long, long way. So let’s celebrate!

CIO is 20. Big deal, right? Who cares about a magazine’s anniversary other than its proud-parent editors? As Jack Shafer wrote in Slate last year: “Like birthday parties thrown by the birthday boy, anniversary issues tend to overindulge the honoree.” And so we dedicate this issue not to ourselves and what we’ve done, but to you.

In the scheme of anniversaries, 20 is not all that momentous. Heck, National Geographic will be 120 next year. But National Geographic covers, basically, the entire planet, which has been around for a while.

Not so IT. Twenty years ago, most companies didn’t even have a local area network. Ten years ago, the countdown to Y2K was still 27 months and counting, and we were just entering the on-ramp to the autobahn-like ride of the tech boom (and its subsequent ugly crash).

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Back then, competitive advantage through IT meant one of three things: American Hospital Supply’s ASAP (an electronic order entry, tracking and supplies management system), American Airlines’s Sabre online reservation system, or Otis Elevator’s system for elevator service and maintenance. With IT still immature, companies had to build strategic systems from scratch. The competitive advantage they derived, while costly and hard to build, was likely to last some time.

Today, competitive advantage through IT is more easily found but also harder to sustain. Innovation is often opportunistic and incremental, demanding the ability to spot an opportunity quickly (which requires a deep understanding of the business), conceive a differentiated product or service (requiring a sophisticated understanding of one’s technology options), deliver the new offering before the competition does (both a flexible infrastructure and operational agility required), and be ready to move on when the opportunity has been fully exploited.

In 20 years, we’ve reported some amazing IT successes and failures. Your role has changed; even the terms for what you run have changed, from data processing to management information systems to just information systems to information technology. Now people are talking about business technology.

Maybe it’s indulgent to celebrate 20 years of you, but we don’t think so. We hope you enjoy our 20th anniversary package as we look back on the past and forward into the future—and connect some dots along the way. I suspect you’ll be as impressed as we are by all that CIOs have accomplished. And maybe feel just a little bit proud.

Editor in Chief Abbie Lundberg can be reached at lundberg@cio.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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