Bounce Back: AIG - InformationWeek

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Bounce Back: AIG

In keeping a recent appointment, American International Group Inc. CIO Kevin Murray suggested a local coffee shop in lower Manhattan as an impromptu meeting place. The reason: A new security lockdown at the financial company's high-rise building, where the meeting was scheduled to take place, has made it easier for employees to leave than for strangers to get in. "Even if they know you," Murray says, "they're double-checking you."

The heightened state of alert is understandable. Just blocks from where the World Trade Center used to stand, AIG's office building at 70 Pine St. is the third-tallest in New York. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the $45 billion business insurer is taking every precaution to ensure a safe and secure work environment.

On the street corner near the Europa coffee shop where Murray recalls the events of the past few weeks, a temporary cellular tower is a reminder of the rebuilding process at hand. AIG employees are themselves still in a recovery phase; some are wary of coming back to an area where memories of chaos and terror are fresh. "I understand the difficulty, but I want to encourage them," Murray says. His message to colleagues: "Don't let the terrorists do this to you. Get it together."

AIG's staff of about 500 IT people is located at 160 Water St. in lower Manhattan. On Sept. 11, they were forced to evacuate. "I made sure the building was empty, left between 2:30 and 3, tried to get my car, but couldn't," says Murray. He headed to the piers at the southern tip of Manhattan, where an ad hoc collection of boats was shuttling people to Staten Island and New Jersey. Murray caught a boat to Jersey City, N.J., walked a mile and a half to Hoboken, and took a train home. "Then it all hit me," he says. "Did this just happen?"

By the next day, the firm's New York operations were up and running at two New Jersey locations: a backup business center in Parsippany and a SunGard facility in Livingston. An emergency shipment of workstations from Dell allowed 85 claims adjusters to do their jobs. The global company also relied on its offices in the New York area, London, Tokyo, and other cities. By the week of Sept. 17, AIG's IT workers were back in their own offices.

Going forward, some things will be done differently. Most of AIG's data is backed up on mainframes, but there were some servers in New York that continued to be backed up on tape--and those tapes were left behind in the quick evacuation. "Even though we had the system up and running, we didn't have the backup from Monday night," Murray says. "I'm going to change that." To recover the tapes, an IT staffer snuck past National Guard troops protecting the area and into AIG's building. AIG will make broader use of mainframe backup in the future.

There's also renewed interest in a pre-attack initiative to make sure employees are equipped to work from home using PCs and Web browsers. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, some AIG claims adjusters did that, and some still do. Typically, AIG is "not a work-at-home place," says Murray, but the process worked so well that it's gained respect.

Amid the heightened post-attack state of security, AIG's IT professionals in New York are getting on with business. "We'll dot all the I's and cross all the T's when it comes to security," Murray says, "and yet the application projects keep going."

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