by CIO Staff

Technology Leadership: What It Takes

May 10, 20055 mins
IT Leadership

The session on technology leadership (how companies can use technology to give their organizations a competitive advantage) was moderated by CIO Technology Editor Chris Lindquist, and featured two CIOs from opposite ends of the technology adoption spectrum. Charles S. Brenner, Senior Vice President, Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT) at Fidelity Investments, and Steve Peltzman, CIO, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), shared honest stories about the obstacles they face.

The contrasts were stark. At Fidelity, a company that prides itself on technology leadership, Brenner weighs the task of identifying emerging technologies and evangelizing IT with the needs of a 45,000-person company based on five continents to keep up in a cutthroat industry. Peltzman, on the other hand, grapples with the limited budget of a non-profit and with a wide spectrum of technology savviness on the part of his 700-plus users.

At MoMA, Peltzman had the enviable IT experience of building a new tech infrastructure from a green field when MoMA undertook a multimillion-dollar renovation, completed in December. Peltzman described a four-year journey that ended with new advances such as multimedia exhibits and wireless connections in the galleries.

He described his role as running key systems such as e-mail as well as helping to enhance the museumgoers experience–while he keeps costs down. One of his greatest challenges is political: He is far more successful when users come to him with their technology needs rather than trying to impose change on them.

For example, the department that tracks art approached him for help with making their process more efficient. After first exploring bar coding, they are now piloting RFID.

At the same time, he tries to explore some “fast follower” opportunities by approaching major tech vendors and leveraging the MoMA brand as a PR opportunity for the vendors in exchange for cheaper (and sometimes free) implementations. For instance, Peltzman is currently exploring with Apple the possibility of some sort of marriage of audio and digital images using the iPod.

At Fidelity, Brenner described a financial services giant using all sorts of cutting edge technologies, including extensive use of multicasting video, to drive the business in his farflung organization. At one point, he showed an example of the fast-paced, high-quality telecast his team puts together monthly to talk about what’s new with IT.

The slick production showed Brenner, seated like a TV anchor at a newsdesk-sort of platform, describing how IT is investigating the Firefox browser. The message contained a veiled warning to users not to install Firefox themselves while assuring them that FCAT is interested in Firefox and plans to put the corporate imprimatur on it soon.

Brenner cited this as a better approach than the punitive one some CIOs use to contain renegade installments. He also said that Fidelity is extremely interested in open source in general, saying “We’re been on Linux but we want to go deeper” — to the point that FCAT has set up an open source support center to explore the licensing, testing and workability aspects before entering into the next phase of adoption.

A taste of the panel discussion:

Lindquist: What’s down the road in the next few months?

Brenner: Podcasting: Audio Tivo, if you will. If you haven’t heard of it now, I guarantee you will have in six months or so. We’re working on a weekly audio wrapup of Wall Street activity, but customized for users, assembled of collected snippets based on portfolio contents. We’re also working hard on identity theft and malware issues. If our customers lose faith in the Internet, we’re going to be plunged into a world we don’t want to be in.

On thing down the line is photo choice authentication. When you log on, you’d be presented with 12 photos, four of which you’ve provided, eight of which you’ll have never seen. So it’s two-way authentication, because a phishing site wouldn’t have your photos.

Peltzman: People would like me to say teletransportation so your feet don’t get tired in the musem, but it’s more boring than that. We have to get past the things that are slowing down the creative stuff. Fighting spam, viruses and so on. It’s not technology that’s holding us back from the creative stuff, but time.

From the audience: How do you mitigate risk in dealing with startups?

Brenner [Who advised “gradualism” as a smart approach for signing on with startups]: If you’ve ever had a box of source code delivered to you from a bankrupt company, it’s pretty cold comfort. It’s really people, people, people.

Peltzman: I exclude technologies that aren’t something I can excise. I ask, if they die tomorrow, where will I be? It limits what I can do….If I were at another place I might be different, but at MoMA it’s too risky to get into those situations.

— Mindy Blodgett, CIO magazine Special Projects Editor and Sandy Kendall, Web Editor