Remember when it was the height of technology to work with a Selectric typewriter, the kind with the automatic back-erase feature? That was the height of communications technology ... before we knew who owned Microsoft, what, 10 years ago? How did we survive in the pre-information age?
For most of us, individually, the question now is, How we will survive the information age ahead?
The university took a large step today in answering that question as an institution, naming Stephanie Reel (pictured at right) as its chief information officer. She succeeds the university's first CIO, David Kingsbury, who departed in May 1997.
"There has been great anticipation throughout Hopkins about the appointment of a chief information officer to provide strong leadership and direction in information technology," says Theodore O. Poehler, vice provost for research and the chairman of the search committee that selected Reel. "I believe that Stephanie Reel is a person who can fill that role and that she will do a superb job in responding to our long-standing need to strengthen and integrate information technology across the institution."
Reel served the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Information Services Department, as director and then senior director, from 1990 to 1994, when she became vice president for information services for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
"Stephanie Reel has been extremely successful in her efforts to organize information services in the vastly complex setting of Johns Hopkins Medicine," says Provost Steven Knapp. "In so doing, she has won the deep respect of her colleagues around the university. In the three years I have worked with her on our institution-wide Information Systems Coordinating Council, I have come to admire her high professionalism, managerial skill and evident commitment to our academic as well as our clinical mission."
Reel at one time wanted to teach math. But after earning a bachelor's degree in information systems management at the University of Maryland, she earned an MBA at Loyola College in Baltimore. Working for five years in Anne Arundel County's judicial system, she played around with computers and found it rewarding to use technology to address basic challenges, like managing court dockets and sharing court documents. Her career then turned to health care information. The unifying aspect of her work, she says, has been the desire--and ability--to help people solve their problems with increasingly complex tools of technology.
As an eight-plus-year veteran of the-way-things-work-at-Hopkins, Reel is quick to point out that she was not hired as the new communications czarina. Although she will serve all eight academic divisions, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the health system and the university administration, the specifics and the depth of her involvement in each school and division are still somewhat fluid. And that's how she prefers it.
"My job is not to get people around the university to do things my way," she says. It will be, instead, to facilitate discussion, develop collaborations and communicate effectively throughout the university. "This is a leadership position, and I believe you lead best when you listen and learn what each division needs and how you can best help them achieve their goals. I know I will need to earn the right, among the deans and faculty and senior staff, to go forward.
"My greatest asset for this job may be my optimism," she says with an easy laugh. "I really think this job is doable."
That said, the job is a formidable one. While she does not broach the "C" word--centralization--she does believe her early efforts will be enhanced by various entities working together and sharing ideas and information.
"The CIO needs to provide the glue for tying our efforts together. I know from my experiences in East Baltimore that there are incredibly talented people throughout Hopkins. I have been successful leveraging faculty strengths, and their talents have led to great things--all the better if we can now do that on a grand scale. Not to take advantage of all the institution has to offer would be unfortunate."
Reel offers an example: APL is very good at security, and the medical institutions have a tremendous need for security for things like patient information records. While APL has worked to help the medical side, she says, "the opportunities have been serendipitous. A CIO can make these sorts of endeavors happen with more focus and energy and efficiency by leveraging our talent to what I hope would be to everyone's benefit."
To that end, Reel believes her first year, which will begin Jan. 1, 1999, will involve getting back to basics.
"I want to learn a lot about the telecommunications, networking and service level processes," she says. "I want to better understand what the needs are, where the problems are and how people dealing with them daily think these functions can be improved. These things need to be in place if we are to build further into the information age."
For example, Reel suggests the potential for a communications protocol, a uniform basis by which the university talks to itself. "We may have a standard for the protocol, but there might be several broad procedures under that umbrella that might allow divisions, even departments, to generally maintain what they have been doing," she says.
She believes her attention can then turn to looking for what the university's entities can do together--like combining purchasing decisions to better take advantage of Hopkins' buying power--and building on a solid infrastructure.
Reel also expects to devote a lot of her attention to reducing the university's exposure to the year-2000 problem, a project she has been working on in East Baltimore for many months.
"We've been working in teams to assess what exposure we have in what systems and then addressing this wide-ranging issue to better determine what sort of risk we have for system failure or malfunction," she says. "Steve Knapp, Ted Poehler and I have been working with people from around the university, although East Baltimore potentially has the most to worry about, considering everything from the air conditioning system to patient files."
"She clearly understands both the weaknesses and the strengths that affect our readiness to flourish in the information age," says university president William R. Brody. "Her deep knowledge and appreciation of Hopkins, in all its aspects, make Stephanie the ideal person to move us forward in this challenging but essential area."
Although Reel's office will be located at Homewood, she plans on keeping an office on the East Baltimore campus and will continue to lead the work already being done there.