City CIO O'Brien among those making a difference
September 19, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
My cell phone rang
the other night. It was Chris O'Brien, chief information officer
for the City of Chicago. I had been wondering if O'Brien was ducking
my calls. I wanted details on a speech he delivers Wednesday at
Spiaggia before the Society for Information Management.
O'Brien is set to describe
the success of Chicago's five-year technology plan created in
2000. He's proud of the systems the city has created to support
customer service, administration, budgeting, revenue collection,
public safety and human services. He believes Chicago's enterprise
systems are ahead of other municipalities. The talk is mostly
for tech types. It's a shirtsleeves discussion for gear heads.
So why no response
That's when O'Brien
told me about Fosco Park near Racine and Roosevelt, where he's
been helping set up an intake center for nearly 2,000 Hurricane
Katrina victims. O'Brien and his tech team put in the computer
network and desktops so FEMA, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross
could assist the victims moved here.
"It was a really
good experience," said a weary but obviously pleased O'Brien.
"It really mattered."
Paraphrasing the late
Rodney Dangerfield, most CIOs get little respect. When something
breaks, they get the call. Public sector CIOs like O'Brien, John
Flynn at the CTA, Bob Runcie at the Chicago Public Schools, Tom
Lynch at the Chicago Park District, Barbara Banks at the Chicago
Housing Authority and Jay Carlson at the state get even less regard.
These public sector
tech execs are typically paid less than their commercial sector
counterparts. They often have to deliver more services with less
So why do it? I asked
one of my headhunter friends at the blue chip executive search
firm Spencer Stuart. He reminded me that public sector executives
are typically "mission focused." That's another way
of saying these tech execs care. They work for less because they
want to make a difference.
A lot gets written
about our first responders. My hat's off to the police and firefighters
who run into a crisis when the rest of us are running away. After
hearing about the communications challenges they had in New Orleans,
I'm glad there are techies like O'Brien and his cohorts who work
each day to keep the city's tech infrastructure running.
I think I'll even go
hear O'Brien speak about that five-year plan.
Thirty-five years ago,
Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman penned a famous New York
Times article. It was titled, "The Social Responsibility
of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." Friedman argued
against corporate giving.
always made me a little mad," says CDW CEO John Edwardson,
who read it as a young MBA candidate at the University of Chicago.
Edwardson is one of Chicago's most civic-minded CEOs.
When Hurricane Katrina
hit, Edwardson and CDW agreed to match co-worker donations 4-to-1.
They've raised $500,000 so far for the relief effort. Edwardson
says, "It's the right thing to do."
For years, Motorola
was a bastion of engineering excel-lence but no sizzle. Now Motorola
is becoming a cool brand as well. The man making the Motorola
brand sharp as a RAZR is chief marketing officer Geoffrey Frost.
Thursday, Frost explains
"How Moto Is Making the 'Batwing' Cool Again" when he
speaks at the Business Marketing Association luncheon at the University
Roger Crockett, Business
Week tech maven and Chicago deputy bureau chief, introduces Frost.
For details see: www.bmachicago.com.
Three up and
coming local entrepreneurs: Chris Gladwin, Cleversafe,
a data storage security solutions company; Rik Chomko,
co-founder, InRule, a software tools provider, and Joe
Perry, Red Sky Financial, a provider of direct access
to financial markets, got positive reviews at the Chicagoland
Entrepreneurial Center Venture Forum.
Place hosts 1,000 IT professionals this week for the IT Service
Management Forum. ... October's MIT Technology Review honors top
innovators under 35. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
chemistry professor Paul Hergenrother, 33, makes the list. ...
The National Science Foundation awards $2 million to the U
of I/C for CLEANER, a network knowledge base to aid environmental
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.