Feature

Tony F. Habash, DSc, moved only a few blocks when starting his role as APA's new chief information officer (CIO) in January. He joins APA after spending more than a decade in information technology (IT) with AARP, the largest membership organization in the United States, with headquarters located less than a mile from APA's central office in Washington, D.C. In fact, on his first day with APA, he took the Metro to his typical stop downtown, before realizing he'd gone two stops too far.

"It's great," he says. "I can still meet my old colleagues for lunch every so often."

Meanwhile, to his new colleagues Habash brings expertise in melding business and IT and a focus on bolstering the association's online presence, a key opportunity to further engage members in the organization. Members may begin to notice changes on APA's Web site in early 2008, he says. For instance, the IT team will enhance the capabilities of the site's membership self-service section and create an online discussion forum where members can further connect with each other and the association. Habash also plans to enhance the content and search functions on the site to encourage the public to think of APA first when probing for information related to psychology.

"My passion is for enabling the organization to be more effective through the right technology solutions," he says. "Every interaction a member has with APA should have added value through technology."

He'll also work to improve the efficiency of the association's internal business systems-things like membership, subscriptions and accounts-payable tracking, says APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD. It's a tough job, but one that Habash is well-equipped to undertake, Anderson notes.

"Tony is considered one of the innovators in IT within the association world and brings a wealth of experience with him into this position," says Anderson. "We are really fortunate to attract someone of his caliber to APA."

The art of integration

Habash, who holds both a doctorate and masters degree in information systems management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., comes to the job with notable technology awards and experience: In 2005, CIO Magazine named him one of 33 "Ones To Watch" in IT, and in 2006, he received a CIO Decisions Midmarket Leadership Award. In his new post he heads APA's 60-person IT office, which handles the association's technology strategy and operations, including application development and integration, Web site enhancement, and PsycINFO support, among other things. But his main task comes in helping APA better integrate business and technology.

"IT cannot come as an afterthought," he says. "If there is a new idea, program or service that the association is looking at, it's essential for IT to serve as consultants to that initiative from the beginning, because the direction might be impacted by what's possible in technology."

His new role does not come without its challenges, including keeping up with rapidly changing technology, and fulfilling the daily requests that come in from staff and members, says Jerry McGlaughlin, director of APA's Management Information Systems group. McGlaughlin, who served as interim CIO for seven months before Habash came on board, says the CIO's role demands an "art" for knowing how to build technology solutions that meet the needs of the business, but also conform to the capabilities of technology.

Habash has his work cut out for him, says McGlaughlin, and keeping an open mind will help him get a better sense of what is and is not working at APA in terms of technology.

Sculpting change

Outside of the office, some of Habash's hobbies are decidedly low-tech.

Growing up, his father owned an olive wood factory in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, and he spent some of his boyhood sculpting the dense wood. Though olive trees are hard to come by in Washington, D.C., Habash still takes time to carve, often whittling symbolic figurines or chess sets.

Although hobbies like woodworking and yoga might seem mismatched with Habash's technology interests, the new CIO notes that both sides of his life require similar patience. For instance, Habash's initial "90-Day Plan" as CIO includes taking time to interview staff and members and get in synch with APA's CEO on the association's key priorities. He then plans to assess the IT organization in light of these priorities and ensure alignment with the association's goals before developing his strategic technology plan. All of this will take time, he says, but having patience up front will allow APA members and staff to reap the benefits of a more effective IT organization in the end.

"As CIO, I see my role really as making sure we always understand where APA is heading and where technology trends are evolving, and bridging the two in a very meaningful way," Habash says.