Lev S. Gonick: Community Liaison

As CIO and vice president of information technology services at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Lev S. Gonick, 46, works with 191 IT employees and provides stewardship of a $38 million IT budget.

This past year, Gonick and his staff launched the OneCleveland network, which has a fiber-optic backbone. They used Gigabit Ethernet optical gear to create an intranet for Case and more than 100 educational institutions, research organizations, health care facilities, libraries, government agencies and cultural organizations in northeast Ohio. The award-winning project increased bandwidth by a factor of up to 1,000, cut Internet connectivity costs by more than half and enabled a collaborative environment that includes joint application development among Case, the Cleveland School District, the Cleveland Museum of Art and other local institutions. Gonick took time out recently to talk with Computerworld's Marc L. Songini about leadership and the changing role of IT.

Where do you see the IT leader's role heading? As our industry has matured over the past 20 years, the successful IT leadership style has evolved from autocratic to hands-off to what I call the "open-source" leadership style.

Today's style is much more focused on contributing to the top line of the organization through a deliberate sharing of power with key business owners. But with an emphasis on participatory leadership and leading through example, I think open-source leaders live with considerably more ambiguity and a focus on the short term.

How do you determine which metrics indicate real success? Generally, in the higher-education segment, the most important goal is to support the core mission of instruction and research. In addition to a robust infrastructure, other critical components include the provisioning of collaborative tools, applications and services that enable students and faculty to be successful in the learning, teaching and research space. There are measurable outcomes: One is student success. We also measure success around research dollars raised, student applicants, student grades and other factors.

How do you lead within your own department? In a large and decentralized organization such as Case, I see my leadership responsibilities largely framed in terms of coordinating the autonomy of each of the key business units. Understanding customer needs and mobilizing my team to deliver value is also a key part of my mission.

What's an example of that? OneCleveland, an ambitious community-centered initiative to extend gigabit networking and ubiquitous wireless services to hundreds of Cleveland's public-sector agencies and not-for-profits. It connects several hundred thousand end users to a gigabit fiber-optic network. It's a community-owned asset in which we have lit more than 5,000 hot spots for access. Museums and schools are leveraging the most important educational assets in the city. We got 85,000 users connected in two weeks, all in gigabit fiber optic.

What's the next year look like? Over the next 12 to 18 months, Case and OneCleveland, along with our strategic partners, will roll out application services in areas like community [utility] computing, grid technologies for economic development, networked electronic medical records, health care education for middle and high schools, and e-government services.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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