UC Berkeley's Fisher Center Provides IT Leadership

by Don Dugdale

The Fisher Center for Information Technology and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, is both one of the West Coast's newest centers for the interchange of IT knowledge and one of UniForum's newest collaborators.

Established in 1994 at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, the Fisher Center devotes itself to interdisciplinary research, outreach and education on the strategic use and management of IT in organizations. The center currently has 16 corporate sponsors, whose representatives form an industry advisory board that shapes the center's policies and direction. The representatives, typically vice presidents or CIOs with companies like BankAmerica Corp. and Charles Schwab, also speak regularly at the center's programs-workshops and roundtable discussions.

"We are very much focused on management issues and on how the individual organizations are coping with technological change, and providing some guidance and support to them," says James Ware, the Fisher Center's executive director for the past year. "It's also a two-way street, because we enable them to provide guidance to the university. It's a way to help the business community to get access to faculty and graduate students here, and also to influence the curriculum and the research. For the university, it's a chance for the faculty to get access to research sites and get a little closer to the real world."

The Fisher Center is co-sponsor with UniForum of the IT Horizon '97 conference, June 9-11 in San Jose, focusing on the opportunities and impact of using network computers in the enterprise (see IT Horizon '97 article in this issue). Most recently, Ware moderated a CIO panel discussion at UniForum '97 in San Francisco. "We're getting to know each other," Ware says.

The Fisher Center received its initial endowment in 1995 from Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of The Gap, Inc. Corporate sponsors commit $25,000 a year for at least three years, in addition to giving its executives' time to support the center's activities. "The time is frankly a tougher sell than the money because people are so busy," Ware says. Ware joined the center last year as its first full-time director after 16 years as a management consultant to a variety of firms.

Rather than focusing on day-to-day management, the Fisher Center looks at longer-term questions, helping CIOs understand how technology is changing, where it's going and how to deal with broader issues. Still in its early life, the organization has been focused largely on the way companies are managing their Web sites, both public sites and Intranets. One of the center's main research projects, just now underway, is a survey of business-to-business purchasing transactions via the Internet, managed by Arie Segev, the center's faculty director and a UC business professor. Previously, the center sponsored a study of transmitting vital banking information over the Internet between Bank of America and one of its business customers. Other current projects include:

"During the year I've been here, it's been one of solidifying our relationships with our advisory groups and sponsors," Ware says. "We're just coalescing as a group and getting our research agenda focused and off the ground. We now have three full-time research fellows and a much stronger advisory board."

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