ChicagoFIRST teamwork would pay off in a crisis

November 22, 2004


Louis Rosenthal's job isn't sexy, but it's indispensable. The 27-year banking-industry vet is executive vice president at ABN Amro, the Dutch parent of LaSalle Bank. He runs technology infrastructure and operations. Before 9/11, no one took much notice of Rosenthal's responsibilities. Now the Department of the Treasury is spotlighting him.

"People expect financial institutions to open," says Rosenthal who was in New York on 9/11. He says the financial-services sector recovered quickly. The biggest problem was the grounding of air traffic which delayed transaction clearing. The industry collaborated to get systems running, but what if there's a next time and what about Chicago?

"We are pretty concentrated here," says Rosenthal. "It's banks, insurance companies, securities firms, clearing firms and exchanges. A lot is done electronically, but to have a lot done in one place made us feel vulnerable."

Talking over a beer

Those questions brought Rosenthal and Ro Kumar, vice president at Options Clearing Corp., together for a beer. "Ro made some calls in the securities industry. I made some calls in the banking industry," says Rosenthal. "We convened an ad hoc meeting. We got together and started talking."

From an informal conversation emerged ChicagoFIRST. The working group grew to include 14 leading Chicago financial institutions that engaged with a host of strategic partners ranging from the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department to the Department of Homeland Security.

They focused on evacuation plans, assuring business continuity, gaining timely information in an emergency, and getting essential personnel back into affected areas in a crisis. Each organization had individual disaster recovery plans, and through ChicagoFIRST, the plans became coordinated for the entire industry.

"At a time of crisis we don't want 20 firms picking up the phone trying to get their buddy at the police department," says Rosenthal. "There is now a seat for ChicagoFIRST at the joint operations center of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications."

His point: Chicago's financial services industry is coordinating with local, state and federal authorities.

Starting next month, Treasury begins promoting ChicagoFIRST as a model for creating regional coalitions to assure business continuity in case disaster strikes.

Illinois shutout on nanotech

The University of Michigan is crowing again. Seems the Maize and Blue and the state of Michigan are part of a 13-university consortium that won a $70 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

It's called the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, and the goal is to create facilities to support nanotech commercialization. It includes Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Howard University, University of Washington, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Penn State, University of Texas-Austin, University of New Mexico, University of California at Santa Barbara, and North Carolina State.

Conspicuously absent are Illinois institutions. In his March 2003 State of the State address, Gov. Blagojevich said, "Illinois should have been -- and it's going to be -- Silicon Prairie, and that can start with nanotechnology." Nearly 19 months later, we're still losing nanotech investments.

"It's a shame no Illinois institutions are on the winning network," says Sean Murdock, executive director of the New York-based NanoBusiness Alliance, the industry trade association that guided Congress on the creation of the $3.7 billion 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. Murdock points to facilities at Argonne, Northwestern and the University of Illinois - Chicago that aid nanotech commercialization.

The governor got the General Assembly to pass a resolution last week urging the U.S. Department of Energy to put the $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator at Argonne. Question is, can our politicians sell it in Washington?

KPMG high tech awards

The 21st annual Illinois High Tech awards convene tonight at the Ritz Carlton. The four winners are Githesh Ramamurthy, CEO of CCC Information Services; Gian Fulgoni, chairman comScore Networks; Raymond Spencer, CEO Kanbay International; and, Santo LaMantia, CEO Shure Inc.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners