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9/27/2002
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IT Confidential: Reasons To Stay Awake At Night

Why can't Catherine Zeta-Jones just leave the technology to us?

Hopefully, you're one of those people who can get a great night's sleep no matter what's happening at the office. Me, I'm a worrier, and it looks like I've got plenty of company. Here's what's keeping some of your colleagues awake -- or maybe should be. Let's start with Catherine Zeta-Jones. Yes, the actress. She seems charming enough, but she's pitching the Pocket PC Phone Edition for T-Mobile, the mobile-services arm of Deutsche Telekom. The campaign promotes a device for wireless phone and Internet and builds brand awareness. But in a discussion about wireless technology at InformationWeek's Fall Conference in Tucson, Ariz., last week, one of the biggest concerns was the day when mobile-service companies put their full might behind building and marketing wireless public-access "hot spots" at airports, coffee shops, and hotels. T-Mobile has more than 1,000 such connections in Starbucks stores already. Once they gain momentum, CEOs and other top executives inevitably will start using the networks of dubious security for potentially sensitive communication. One technology manager has set a personal goal to have tough remote-access security technology in place before Zeta-Jones' mug is used to tout hot spots. "When they start advertising, that's our deadline," he says. "That's when we're in trouble."

If hacker threats aren't enough to get you worried, here's another one. One executive at the conference said his business loses about 300 notebook computers a year. That's a lot of sensitive company information roaming free. What's on your colleagues' notebooks?

While some of us might fret about what co-workers are saying about us, we can take solace in the fact that the stakes are rarely as high as they are for WorldCom execs. Last week, the company's former controller, David Myers, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy, securities fraud, and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission. U.S. prosecutors have been trying to build a case that higher-ups, particularly former CFO Scott Sullivan and former CEO Bernie Ebbers, knew about the fraudulent books. Myers admitted to fraudulent accounting carried out under the orders of more senior WorldCom executives and with the help of subordinates, but he hasn't named names.

A more realistic fear than indictment these days is getting laid off. And CEOs at technology companies should share this concern. They're more likely than execs in any other sector to be bounced for bad results, according to a survey by Booz Allen Hamilton of CEO transitions in 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001 at the 2,500 largest public companies. Forty-two percent of CEO changes in those four years were linked to poor performance.


Well, I know John Soat will be worrying about what to include in his column as he returns this week. Ease his mind by sending an industry tip to jsoat@cmp.com, or phone at 516-562-5326. Or drop by InformationWeek.com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.

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