by Donald R. Lasher

Hall of Fame CIO Donald R. Lasher Looks Back

Apr 16, 20074 mins

Moore's Law, the "dark side" of the Internet, the human disconnect, the decline of IT architecture and the challenges facing CIOs today.

Former commander of computer systems command, U.S. Army, longtime president of the information services division, United Services Automobile Association, and CIO of the Department of the Interior, Donald R. Lasher was inducted into the CIO Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2007, we asked Lasher what have been the biggest changes and advances in IT—the technology, the discipline and the CIO role—over the past 20 years.

The biggest advance in technology, which has enabled all of the following changes, is the spectacular increase in microchip technology, both computer and memory. Without these advances all of the rest would not have happened—meaning that Moore’s Law is still holding true.

As for the biggest change, hands down, it has to be the overwhelming domination of the Internet (World Wide Web) and all of its concomitant enablers, such as broadband, search engines and the various networking technologies. It has wide-ranging ramifications on every part of our society, worldwide—government, business, commerce, national cultures, warfare and personal lives. From this comes distributed processing and the emergence of Web-based applications, which are revolutionizing the software business.

Following closely behind is the wireless environment, whose potential has only partly been harnessed. Soon we will see the truly unwired enterprise, after which landline phones will become so comparatively costly they may eventually become museum pieces.

With the proliferation of the personal computer and all of the above technology, we have seen a profound effect on productivity and society—huge advances in medicine, science and almost any other field you can name—millions of lives saved or enhanced. On the other hand, terrorists also become enabled by it all.

Indeed, there is a very dark side to all the above. In the 1980s networks were largely the realm of the professional—scientists, engineers, military users and pretty much a trusted environment. Unfortunately, the nefarious activity the Internet allows has given rise to an entire security industry and has fundamentally changed the way (and openness with which) we do business. The resources that government, business and individuals must apply toward keeping data and networks secure is staggering, and growing. The security measures required to operate safely—and the consequences of not doing so—were not envisioned 20 years ago.

Another downside is that we have become so connected that we feel incomplete when we are without the cell phone, PDA, laptop or video game. Pretty much gone are the quiet walks or rides in the country, family days playing board games and just interacting with those close to us. Will this cause us to lose our own self-reliance and the ability to interact personally, human to human? You only need watch today’s kids to know that interpersonal communication has suffered greatly.

As for advance/change in IT discipline, it appears to me that discipline has largely gone out the window, what with the “letting a thousand flowers bloom” approach of the 1990s. IT standards, so much fretted over in the past, seem to be all over the place—a commodity-driven situation where the users obtain the latest gizmo (hardware or software) and expect instant integration by the IT community. All of which makes the concept of enterprise architecture mostly just a concept. Along with security/privacy this must be one of the IT community’s most vexing problems, unless I miss my guess. Of course, the great move toward outsourcing and distributed everything works strongly against such discipline— a tough situation.

As for the CIO role, I do not see much advance or change for the better. On the contrary, I see somewhat of a downward trend, with many becoming bogged down in cost cutting and systems maintenance. Also, there is still a majority of CEOs (and CFOs) who view IT as a cost center rather than a potential strategic enabler.

In the few more forward-thinking enterprises, with real business-savvy CIOs, the CIO is in the first tier of decision-making and strategic business planning. Most of the rest are still hoping for a seat at the head table. Whether this is because the CIO doesn’t think of himself as a true business partner of his clientele or because he can’t sell the concept depends largely on the CIO… as well as the “what have you done for me lately” attention span of some CEOs. However, with all that CIOs have on their plates, it’s easy to see how they can rationalize putting out fires and protecting their empire instead of tackling the harder but more important issue of real business partnership; that is, looking for IT opportunities to advance the business.

All this makes for very difficult true business systems integration—the CIO’s Holy Grail.

Read more about other current members of the Hall of Fame.