I returned from a trip to Israel today where I met 15 different end user organizations during the week. One impression that sticks with me is how far this tiny country, with not a small percentage of its GDP earmarked towards Defense, has managed to advance. There are highways in Israel that put the US rickety infrastructure to shame, and a light rail system that hums along up and down the coast. Not quite the shinkansen of Tokyo, but not Metro-North either. There are modern, eco-friendly skyscrapers designed by world famous architects like Philippe Starck.
And there is advanced technology for consumers. When you want to park your car in a city lot, you can take out your mobile phone and key in a code, get a time stamp via the phone, and park. When you leave, an electronic sensor notes your exit and you are billed electronically and away you go. No tickets, no physical coins/bills, no paper, no hassle.
I had the good fortune to meet the CIO of the entire Israeli government’s computer infrastructure. They, like other governments, are moving the hundreds of software systems built over 50 years into a single, virtualized environment, and eventually will supply all government agencies with their applications in a private Cloud.
Two things struck me: the first was coming back to the United States and thinking about the massive – and by massive I mean incalculable – waste of the American government bureaucratic apparatus. Maybe because the original American colonists were so wary of central authority, each of the 13 set up their own systems and laws. That was fine for the first phase of national existence as a polity, but what about the next 400 years? Should a citizen in Florida really have different laws applied to them than Alaska? Must the laws of establishing a business in Rhode Island be different than in Oklahoma? Why should marriage rights differ one mile away between States?
I know better minds than mine will say that this is to protect everyone’s rights and separate State and Federal. But really? Or is this Einstein’s quip that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Millions of employees are kept occupied with laws, systems support, courthouses, regulations on building/ licensing/taxing…. This made sense for a lot of good reasons, but will it forever? Does a State lose power because it allows citizens a single set of consistent rights on how they are born, lead their lives, run their businesses, pay their taxes, and pass on their wealth? Should imminent domain be so different from place to place? Or are the trillions of dollars that were invested to maintain the status quo of Legislatures and local courts with their crazy-quilt systems, forms, processes just so much waste that no longer makes sense?
The list is literally endless. And it is not entirely dissimilar to some of the conversations one has with the CIOs of large enterprises who know there are hundreds of process silos, yet struggle to break down the walls despite the best ideas and intentions.
Which brings me to the second small point of vision and leadership. I do not know the CEO of Oracle, Lawrence (“Larry”) Ellison. But I can say that whether I am in Paris or Boston of Mumbai or Tel Aviv, IT leaders mention him for painting a picture of a different kind of future. I refuse to believe that he goes around to all of these places and speaks to leaders in all of these businesses and governments because he needs the money. And it is not ego. Or if it is, so what? What I can tell you is that I will sit and hear a CIO in hospital management dream about the future of his/her processes fitting together in new and innovative ways, and how they heard this from Larry Ellison. And then I am half the way around the world and a Government CIO paints another picture of how their processes will change over the next ten years and they mention the vision as described by the same person.
Leaders matter, and vision matters. Technology innovation is at the core of enabling change, but it takes tremendous courage to pull off the required change management. It needs the validation and support of visionary leaders. Sitting with the CIO in Jerusalem last week, I heard for the I-don’t-know-how-many time that they trust in a vision, and are going to go forward, even with the trepidation and hesitancy that any smart CIO must display.
Hats off to the visionary CIO.