CHIDS and DIGITS host 11th Annual CIO Forum
More than 130 people gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building and International
Trade Center on Nov. 5, 2010 to learn and discuss “Innovation 2.0: Information Technology
in Government and Business” – the topic of the Robert H. Smith School of Business’
11th Annual CIO Forum. The forum was sponsored by the Smith School’s
Digital Thought and Strategy (DIGITS) and the Center for Health Information and
Decision Systems (CHIDS).
The daylong event had three keynote speakers and two panels, with topics ranging
from getting an organization to be more innovative to the effects of a digital world
on communication and entertainment.
Il-Horn Hann, associate professor and co-director of DIGITS, and Ritu Agarwal,
dean’s chair in Information systems and director of CHIDS, kicked off the event,
welcoming the crowd to the forum.
“Today is an important opportunity for managers, executives, faculty and students
to get away from the office. The forum is a place for thinking, discussion and reflection
on what is going on around us,” Agarwal said. “I think we can all agree that Innovation
and change are going to be the defining characteristics of the decade.” Following
Hann and Agarwal, G. “Anand” Anandalingam, the dean of the Smith School, welcomed
and thanked those in attendance.
The keynote speaker of the day was Spain “Woody” Hall, the CIO of General Dynamics
IT. He talked about “Driving an Organizational Culture of Innovation,” explaining
that “It’s the people stuff that is really challenging when it comes to innovation.
… Innovation doesn’t just happen, it is a process that needs to be managed and driven.”
At general Dynamics IT, Hall is responsible for the overall strategic planning
as it relates to information systems and technology, providing insight and support
to the key General Dynamics IT operational and business development initiatives.
Hall defined innovation simply as a new way of doing something, giving the example
of finding a way to deliver more of the same product or service, or finding new
offerings for customers.
He talked about the importance of having an organization that “keeps the fire
in the belly,” and is always striving to be innovative. “Sometimes when you are
really good at something, you stop looking for ways to get better, and that can’t
happen,” he said.
The lunch speaker was Sujal Patel, the president and CEO of Isilon Systems, which
he founded in 2001. His talk was titled, “The Era of On-Demand IT – Innovating to
Catch the Big Data Wave.”
Patel, a University of Maryland alumnus, talked about the digitization of media
and the results on IT infrastructure: “There is a huge amount of data out there.
If you think about how we interact with media – cell phones, television, etc. –
big data is all around us. It’s in the federal government in surveillance, security,
border control, customs. … Everywhere you look there is big data.”
Why does data grow that big? Why does all that data exist? The answer comes back
to innovation, according to Patel: “As companies innovate, they leverage the best
and biggest computers out there and the maximum amount of storage space out there
– Innovation drives new ways of working with data and leveraging data.”
From a numbers perspective, Patel said, in 2020 the amount of data will increase
40 fold to 35 zettabytes. “The biggest problem with the extreme growth in data is
the number of IT professionals to manage the data is only going to increase 1.4
The final and featured speaker of the day was Andy Baer, senior vice president
and CIO of Comcast Cable Communications, LLC. Comcast is the nation’s leading provider
of cable, entertainment and communications products and services. The company provides
cable for more than 23 million people, high-speed internet for more than 15 million
people and digital voice for more than 7 million people.
Baer joined Comcast in 2006 and is responsible for developing the company’s internal
IT strategy that aligns technology to meet overall business needs and objectives.
He spoke about “The Digital Generation – It’s implication on Communications and
“I was the first CIO at Comcast. When I came to the company, they said, ‘help
us use technology strategically because we’re not.’ My job was to introduce innovative
technology,” Baer explained.
Baer explained how the digital generation – people who do not remember a time
without the Internet – is leading the change in the industry. For example, in 2009
social networking users surpassed e-mail users.
“We are focused on getting our customers the information that they need and that
we can deliver to them. … We have to make sure that our customers can access us
any way they want to,” such as on the phone, online, through your cable box, via
Baer spoke about how people are changing the way they access the Internet –now,
Smartphones are used more and more to surf the web, instead of Internet use being
limited to laptops and desktops. And with these changes, Baer said, Comcast has
to evolve as well.
“You have to think about the systems you are providing your customers and your
employees. Does a 25-year-old system work for a 25-year-old user? In most cases,
no,” Baer said.
In between speakers, two panels took place. The first panel – “Using ‘Big’ Data
to Drive Innovation” – featured Michael Brown, chief scientist of comScore; Marty
Colburn, executive vice president and CTO of FINRA; Russ Travers, deputy director
of the National Counter Terrorism Center; and Kenneth Ritchhart, deputy CIO of Customs
and Border Protection in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The second panel – “Technology and Business Model Innovation” – was comprised
of Peter Asbill, COO of Songza Media; Michael Byrne, geographic information officer
of the Federal Communications Commision; and Brian Goler, vice president of marketing
at oDesk. Larry Fitzpatrick, president of Computech, moderated both panels.
The day ended with a student reception and networking event, during which undergraduate
and MBA students from the Smith School got the opportunity to talk with the CIOs
and other executives at the forum.
Jessica Bauer, Writer and Editor, Office of Marketing Communications