IT Veterans Hopper, Feld Say Best Is Yet to Come

Industry legends Max Hopper and Charles Feld sweep away clouds of IT doubt at the annual SIMposium conference.

DALLAS—Two veterans of ITs glory days say the best is yet to come.

"We havent seen anything yet," said IT industry legend Max Hopper, known as the father of Sabre, the worlds first computerized airline reservation system and currently president of consultancy Max D. Hopper Associates.

"Ive never felt more exhilarated about the possibilities of what IT can do," said Charles Feld, former CIO of Frito-Lay, founder of the Feld Group consultancy and now vice president of Electronic Data Systems in Plano, Texas. "The next decade will be the best of the first 40 years or so of IT," Feld added.

The two IT icons delivered their remarks to some 600 of the nations elite IT executives, who gathered here this week to hone their innovative and managerial edges at the annual SIMposium conference of the Society for Information Management. The SIM meeting is also a chance for members to renew acquaintances and reinforce a sense of the importance of IT in U. S. corporations and the world.

The optimistic outlook marks the upswing from one of ITs darkest periods. In his remarks, Hopper surveyed an IT field that had been bloodied by a series of reversals.

"I think Y2K is one of the worst things that ever happened to our profession. The hype about the dangers and the subsequent nonevent created a false sense of security about the importance of IT," Hopper told those at the gathering. If that werent enough, Hopper said the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Sarbanes-Oxley all conspired to force IT into an inward-looking posture, focusing on cost-cutting, disaster recovery and compliance, rather than experimenting with new technologies for strategic advantage.

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Hopper said that after 50 years, were only perhaps halfway into the information age. He exhorted the SIM membership to go above and beyond business as usual. "Were too willing to live with data, rather than higher levels of information," he said. "Do you educate your companys employees and staff on the importance of IT? Hopper urged attendees to think of the strategic value of IT. "What can I do when a competitor uses a video catalog? What changes do I make to infrastructure in order to use Google-like tools, so I wont be caught off guard as we were with the Internet and the PC?"

Feld said the CIO, despite recent reversals, has never been more important. "The CIO and the CIOs team and the executive committee can change the nature of the competitive arena. Its really not about technology, because everybody can buy it. And its not about know-how. We run complex, almost too complex, environments." Instead, he said, IT leadership will come from setting a course for a company. "You need to set an agenda and hold it for a few years," he said.

"What weve built over the last 40 years cant be fixed in one budget year. But the pressure for short-term thinking causes us to think like a service station, responding to requests," said Feld. "Youve got to get the conversation to a much higher ground to overcome short-term thinking. We all have the obligation to set the agenda and keep fighting for it," said Feld.

"I too believe the CIO role is the hardest in the company. One foot in the past, one in the future and both on a banana peel. I still believe in the CIO as a leadership role," said Hopper.

Hopper said that as a CIO at American Airlines and Bank of America, he used to cut his maintenance budget to the bone and pad his budget for new, experimental technologies. But sometimes, corporations arent ready for what IT can deliver. He said at Sabre, he successfully tested a self-service check-in system in 1995, "but there was resistance to change within the company," he said. In the early 1990s, he tried to provide customers with online pictures of hotels, "but the cost was too high."

"Youve got to develop a plan of attack. Youre going to be much happier trying to do the right thing even if its not immediately recognized, than youre gong to be just trying to survive," said Hopper.

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