The big issues: 2003

Cost-cutting, thankfully, didn’t dominate the language of IT this year the way it did in 2002. A review of CIO’s 2003 coverage shows that CIOs were, instead, locked in a struggle for control. Control of spending, yes, but more important, control over the levers of IT investment. CIOs were trying to get a grip on new government regulations; they were studying ways to improve network reliability and systems security. It also was a time for CIOs to brush up on techniques for finding and keeping good people — whether here or abroad. And to solidify their position in the executive suite. A look back at the big stories:

February 15 — Network failure: All systems down

It takes constant vigilance — and the replacement of creaky network gear — to maintain a modern IT infrastructure. That’s the lesson Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center learned the hard way when a network outage forced the facility to divert emergencies to other hospitals for two days and required doctors to revert to paper patient records. Fixing the problems took a total rethink of network architecture, disaster plans and IT staff assignments. Later in 2003, Beth Israel’s CIO claimed that these efforts protected his systems against a summer onslaught of Internet-borne worm attacks.

April 15 — What to do when Uncle Sam wants your data

In recent years the federal government has responded to major crises with new laws that place a heavy emphasis on IT systems and data access. The Patriot Act, a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, allows the FBI to ask retailers and other businesses for customer records — requests that violate many companies’ privacy policies. Caught between their customers and the government, CIOs in 2003 needed to revise privacy policies and seek legal advice. Good relations with lawyers was a theme that carried through the year, as other government rules — applying to issues such as corporate governance and medical records privacy — hit the top of CIO agendas.

May 1 — Portfolio management, how to do it right

Though CIOs are no strangers to fiscal management, 2003 saw a renewed interest in such disciplines as project portfolio management, a process for prioritizing projects that align with business goals. (In 2003, CIO also ran stories focusing on the Balanced Scorecard and Six Sigma.) Why this emphasis now? More than ever, CEOs are demanding that IT investments return immediate dollars to the top and bottom lines.

June 1— Inside outsourcing in India

CIOs at United Technologies Corp. were sending work to Bangalore long before Indian call centers and programming shops hit the American media’s radar. These outsourcing veterans learned that you need to control the work (choosing the right jobs for overseas technologists) and the relationships (managing expectations and performance) before you can reap the strategic and cost-cutting benefits of offshore outsourcing. BREAK

September 1 — The ultimate cost of offshore outsourcing

With the nation experiencing what some analysts called a jobless recovery, CIOs’ cost-benefit calculations about whether to outsource IT work to Asia or Eastern Europe came with an unwanted political question: What will the public think of companies that export jobs overseas? In addition, the total cost of an overseas project turns out not to be reflected by the figures in the contract; along with severance pay for laid-off workers, an offshore vendor’s inexperience can add millions to the ultimate price tag. The key for CIOs: Keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

October 15 — The incredible shrinking CIO As the recession dust settled, CIOs saw their compensation decline in 2003. Tight budgets revealed that many executives still see IT as a cost center. And in 2003, the percentage of CIOs reporting to CFOs doubled from last year. Some CIOs reacted by taking other jobs, and others responded by deciding to run IT like any business unit, which included building relationships with other executives and providing more business training for staff.

That last point — the need for CIOs to invest in the care and feeding of their IT staffs — was another theme in 2003, a year in which the need to sustain productivity with either flat or reduced resources meant that staffers were pushed to the breaking point.

Sounds like a holiday break is in order. Now get ready for 2004.

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