Wyatt Kash | Editor's Desk: Formidable imprints
Two notable technology champions from opposite ends of the government IT world announced this past month that they were stepping down from their bully pulpits. One was a colorful CEO; the other, a federal coordinator.
The first, with his declaration 20 years ago that 'the network is the computer,' helped shape the Internet revolution. The second helped forge a coalition that is laying the foundation for making electronic health records a reality.
For Scott McNealy, the scrappy co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc., the end of his reign as CEO comes with the indignity of failure, unable to steer Sun on a winning course or turn the tide on $5 billion in losses since mid-2002.
But if McNealy's trademark stubbornness led to his downfall, it also bred game-changing innovations. Sun's NFS technology in the mid-1980s showed that files could be retrieved as readily over a network as a hard drive. Its Java technology became a standard, allowing content to work on almost any hardware. By challenging the proprietary kingdoms being marketed by IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., Sun ultimately left an indelible imprint on today's networked world. McNealy's vision that software would one day be free to users has in many ways been realized.
For David Brailer, a physician by trade, there was no road map at all when he took on the job of national coordinator for health IT, only a mission. With no funding to get him started, Brailer had little choice but to barnstorm the country, giving speeches and bringing together groups.
In two grueling years, he has set in motion'like the gears of a complex machine, to use his own simile'health IT efforts that will let physicians, hospitals, insurers and pharmacists exchange patient data to transform the quality of medical care.
The work ahead for those who succeed McNealy and Brailer will not be easy. Both men deserve credit for their vision and courage in the face of what lesser individuals might have regarded as insurmountable odds.
Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.