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Q&A: Former Mass. CIO feels 'bittersweet pride' after battles with Microsoft, legislature

Gutierrez says he would make same choices again that he did in ODF and IT funding fights

By Carol Sliwa
March 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - PALM DESERT, Calif. -- As CIO of Massachusetts from February to November last year, Louis Gutierrez had to endure most of the brunt of Microsoft Corp.'s political wrath over a state policy calling for the adoption of the Open Document Format for Office Applications, or ODF -- a rival to the software vendor's Office Open XML file format. Gutierrez -- who had been the state's first-ever CIO from 1996 to 1998, and then ran IT at one of its agencies in 2003 and 2004 -- also faced IT funding issues in the state legislature last year, ultimately leading him to resign in protest.

Now a consultant at Exeter Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., Gutierrez took part in a panel discussion on defining moments in IT leadership at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference here last week. During a separate interview, he reflected on his nine months in the Massachusetts hot seat, trying to implement a file format policy engineered by his predecessor while also seeking to secure adequate funding for critical IT projects. Excerpts from the interview follow:

What did you find most bothersome about what Microsoft did? This was the first time I had ever seen a vendor involved in efforts to re-charter the central IT agency, and I find that troubling.

You mean they weren't just attacking a policy, they were attacking the agency that had developed the policy? It went to that next level.

Did your experience sour you on Microsoft? I think, to be entirely fair, large corporations have many personalities, all at the same time, and I do think that there are individuals of character that together I worked through a year with. There is this whole theater of me keeping Brian Burke, [Microsoft's Northeast] government affairs specialist, out of my office. That was theater for saying that this type of activity must stop. What I'm concerned about with Microsoft is just that there are portions of the organization, and possibly very endorsed portions of the organization, that have lost a sense of right relation with governments and with government customers.

If you could say anything to Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates right now, what would you tell them? Ray Ozzie, by agreeing to meet early in my tenure, let me say many of those things to him, and I felt very much that he heard. [Editor's note: Ozzie, then one of Microsoft's chief technical officers, is now the company's chief software architect.]

But what I would say is, for a good portion of my career, I've loved Microsoft. I've done great things with Microsoft. I helped convert the state from Banyan Vines to Windows NT. I moved to Microsoft Exchange as the state e-mail system. The first state data warehouse is in SQL Server. Those were things I did that were part of a rich relationship with this innovation that Microsoft was doing in software. In no way, sense or form am I anti-Microsoft. I am, however, against the overstepping of influence with government customers, and I feel that there's been a loss of connection between government as purchaser and Microsoft as innovator. And it would be good for everyone to re-establish that connection.

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