Health Care CIO Sees All CIO Roles Changing

Updated: Embracing custom coding-while evaluating VOIP and rejecting Linux and Oracle as too risky-reflects some of those modern-day changes. (

As the CIO for a $4.1 billion health care products distribution company, Jim Harding knows only too well the changing face of medical technology today.

He sees senior physicians hand-writing prescriptions, penciling notes in patient folders and resisting electronics while the younger physicians embrace PDAs and digital transcription units.

But Harding sees the identical trend impacting IT management far outside health care, with younger office workers coming in with technology know-how that far outdistances their older counterparts.

"Thats why the job of the CIO is much different today than it was 20 years ago," said the technology chief for Henry Schein Inc., the Melville, N.Y.-based firm that employs about 10,000 people in 19 countries.

"The user base is so much more educated on computers. They have a much better understanding of memory and disk issues. They know what a T1 is."

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about how Cingulars CIO also sees the CIO role changing.

But as modern a workforce as he has, the technology Harding prefers to store and manage 50TB of data is decidedly old school: a group of AS/400 servers that he speaks of with mainframe-era admiration.

Referring to the legacy machines that IBM now calls the iSeries, Harding touts their reliability.

"They rarely ever—do I even know of a time?—they just dont go down and they require very little maintenance," he said. "These machines are workhorses. The downside, though, is that youre dealing with IBM."

The heart of the companys data-crunching efforts falls to a quartet of four AS/400s that serve not only as a primary technology platform, but also a built-in place to consolidate functions that might otherwise become a proliferation of servers for e-mail, databases and other narrow functions.

"Everybody that I know is looking at server consolidation all the time," Harding said. "Is it truly better to buy 200 servers?"

Beyond the AS/400s, the companys hardware includes desktops from Dell and IBM, IBM laptops, Toshiba tablet PCs and about 250 BlackBerries (Research In Motion).

On the OS side, the company has standardized on Windows XP and Windows 2000, but may become even more purely Big Blue by moving all Web efforts onto IBMs Websphere because Websphere "has a lot more stuff out of the box than we can get in the XP world."

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