CEOs learn importance of IT

Microsoft's CEO summit shed new light on the importance of IT for many top executives.

CNET News staff
3 min read
SEATTLE--Executives who attended Microsoft's (MSFT) CEO summit in Seattle got what they expected: more than your average technology trade show and a greater sense they need to take an even greater role in setting their companies technology strategy.

The two-day event, which ended today, explored the future direction of technology as seen by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Vice President Al Gore, as well as by CEOs and their colleagues.

Several top executives from more than 100 of the software giant's larger customers--ranging from Robert Crandall, chairman and chief executive of AMR, to Paul Hazen, chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo--gave their take on the first half of the event.

Frank Biondi Jr., chairman and chief executive of Universal Studios, said planning for his company's technological future is done at a division level, but he believes it should be raised to a position that reports directly to the CEO.

Meanwhile, Dimon McFerson, chairman and chief executive of Nationwide Insurance Enterprise, said the conference gave him an opportunity to see how committed other industry executives are to PC networking and electronic commerce.

"We deal in information and, therefore, we have to be good at it," McFerson said. "I also learned that as a CEO I must be involved with technology and the decisions regarding our technology, because of the money that's involved, and it also affects the way we interact with our customers."

During a kick-off reception Wednesday night, several executives said they expected to receive opportunities unavailable to them at numerous other technology conferences held throughout the year.

"This event is for CEOs; it's not a gathering of [information technology managers]," said Geoffrey Johnson, a global vice president and chairman of finance planning and infrastructure for Price Waterhouse.

He noted information technology constitutes a competitive advantage for any company and, as a result, top executives are increasingly becoming involved in product buying decisions and setting IT strategy.

The conference was to designed provide a forum for these executives to discuss their visions of where technology is headed, using concrete examples and images, Johnson said.

Percy Barnevik is a case in point. The chairman of the Swiss electrical engineering behemoth Asea Brown Boveri was a conference luncheon speaker and addressed how his company used technology to become a powerhouse. His speech was entitled "Technology and the Global Business Model."

Another executive, Gerhard Schulmeyer, chief executive of Europe's largest computer company, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, noted that although his company is a Microsoft customer and talks often to the software maker, the conference put the information in a different light.

"We already know each other, but this is a different angle to look at things," he said. The conference also presented an opportunity to meet other Microsoft customers, he added.

Panels and roundtable discussions covered topics such as the future of information technology and how it will change global business models, organizational and global challenges to technology, lessons from electronic commerce pioneers, and actions to be taken for a new relationship with technology.

Bob McDowell, a Microsoft spokesman, said the event was also designed to give Microsoft feedback on where executives believe their industries are headed and what technology they will need to remain competitive.

Executives were whisked off last night to Gates's still-under-construction 20,000-square-foot mansion for dinner after a day of panels. There, they dined on such fare as lightly smoked spring salmon, roasted pear with Calvados sauce, and a chocolate trio of coffee pate, meringue souffle, and tortes with Rainier huckleberries.

The executives toured the Microsoft campus today, where Nathan Myrhvold, head of the software giant's technology, was scheduled to give a presentation.