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11/18/2001
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IT Confidential

Bill Smith (not his real name) is a Web-site analyst in the avionics division of a multibillion-dollar manufacturer. Smith says that about a month ago, his company outsourced the division's help-desk operations to a company in India. Since then, he and his colleagues have spent hours trying to reconcile problems that used to take minutes, due to the language barrier. "You can hear people getting furious, banging on desks," he says. When one of his co-workers was having trouble with her PC and called the help desk, "she was on the phone for two hours just to give them the basic information." The analysts can't help outside callers having trouble navigating the company's Web sites because they can't make themselves understood to the help desk. The company is adding more Web sites, and more airlines are signing on to use those Web sites, which makes for more work. "When we can't get the help we need, it makes matter worse." Company execs are aware of the problem, Smith says, but so far aren't acknowledging it.

Xenophobia strikes deep. Last year, Congress increased the number of foreign technology workers allowed in the U.S. on H-1B visas to address what was then perceived as a crying need for IT talent. But since the economy slowed down and the dot-com business went bust, the H-1B issue has been a hot button. Last week, the Independent Computer Consultants Association, an organization in St. Louis that claims to represent about 1,500 independent consultants nationwide, issued a press release stating its opposition to the H-1B visa program and urging Congress to abolish it. The ICCA's press release says the program "violates the civil rights of the H-1B workers and it violates the principles of a free market by giving advantages to a non-native population." The ICCA also says the H-1B program is being exploited and that "these abuses are well known internally within our industry. However, the number of documented cases is small because collusion is high between companies desiring cheap labor and H-1B agencies." The press release was the result of a growing chorus of complaints from ICCA members, executive director says Joyce Burkard says, and "Sept. 11 probably enhanced it."

Galileo International, the No. 2 travel-reservation system behind Sabre, said last week that Robert Wiseman had joined as VP of technology, strategy, and architecture. Wiseman will develop "strategic technology initiatives," according to a company statement, and report to CIO Mickey Lutz. Prior to joining Galileo, Wiseman was senior VP at Orbitz, the travel Web site. Galileo was acquired in September by Cendant, which owns Avis and Howard Johnson, among others. Subsequently, Cendant installed Lutz, who previously was CIO of PHH Arval, a Cendant company, as Galileo's CIO, and is in the process of moving its data-center operations from Garden City, N.Y., to Denver, the site of Galileo's data center.

Mark Twain said everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Well, NASA is trying to by installing a 1,024-processor SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif. Silicon Graphics says the machine, which will be used to predict climate patterns, is the largest single-system image computer in the world. "We have improved our ability to simulate climate by a factor of 10," said Bill Feiereisen, chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility, in a statement.

At last year's Comdex show in Las Vegas, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was angry over coffee mugs distributed by Microsoft that urged customers to ask Oracle for a discount. Last week at Comdex, Oracle handed out its own mugs labeled "unbreakable," and a flimsier plastic vessel marked, "Microsoft: Software for the Fragile Business." At his keynote speech, Ellison himself touted Oracle's E-mail migration system that he says will let customers keep Microsoft's Outlook client, while storing messages in Oracle's database. "There's nothing wrong with Outlook," Ellison says. "It came free on my computer. If it doesn't bother the Justice Department, it doesn't bother me."

My motto: If I don't bother the Justice Department, it won't bother me. And vice versa. Bother me with an industry tip to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about xenophobia, H-1B visas, or the weather, meet me at InformationWeek.com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.

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