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Business Technology: Opportunity From The Ashes

I don't understand stem-cell research as thoroughly as I'd like. Heck, I don't understand it as vaguely as I'd like. But in spite of my ignorance, it's clear even to me that there is within that complex science a relatively simple notion of new knowledge and new capabilities arising from insight and materials at our disposal--if, that is, they're handled with respect and with tolerance: tolerance for their frailty and for their as-yet-unknown power. Recently, I heard a discussion about the pros and cons of stem cells, and one speaker offered a perspective on their utility that stuck in my mind: the capability that stem cells can be, in a way, agents of regeneration. Of building anew guided by hard-earned knowledge. Innovation, progress, new opportunities, new possibilities.

So I was rattled pretty good last week when, at a meeting with a large software company in Manhattan, one of the executives talked about the concept for "regeneration" among some of the companies in lower Manhattan devastated by the murderous attacks of Sept. 11. His thoughts were particularly striking to me because early that morning I ran over the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan, my first visit to the general area where four weeks ago fire, death, nightmares, ash, and horror rained down on hundreds of thousands of people in the flesh and implanted themselves in the minds of hundreds of millions around the globe via TV and the Web. The place where those sparkling cloud-scratchers used to be is filled above ground with empty space and memories, and at ground level with concrete rubble, dust, and twisted metal, whose mutilated shapes reveal the enormity of the devastation and destruction. It's odd how many people who, after looking at Ground Zero from behind police barricades a few blocks away, have used the same phrase to describe the almost indescribable: "I can't get my mind around it."

"This is not a time for further study or vague directives. The evidence of terrorism's brutality and inhumanity, of its contempt for life and the concept of peace, is lying beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center less than two miles from where we meet today. Look at that destruction, that massive, senseless, cruel loss of human life, and then I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You're either with civilization or you're with the terrorists. On one side is democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human life. On the other is tyranny, arbitrary executions, and mass murder."

"On this issue--terrorism--the United Nations must draw a line. The era of moral relativism between those who practice or condone terrorism, and those nations who stand up against it, must end."

--New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Oct. 2

But that's why regeneration is possible: A number of companies in and around the center of the destruction have, in the midst of the chaos, the chance to build their operations and IT infrastructures in an almost idealized fashion because they're starting fresh. They have a chance to establish policies that before Sept. 11 might not have taken root; they have a chance to pursue that "best of all possible worlds" approach to which everyone always aspired but that always collided with the harsh and typically suboptimal obstacles of reality (aka "installed base").

This perspective on regeneration came from Mike Corcoran, marketing VP at Information Builders Inc., a supplier of Web-based business-intelligence tools and applications with 9,000 customer sites. Noting that the terrorist attacks have precipitated a wave of collaborative efforts among citizens, governmental agencies, countries, and organizations, Mike hypothesized that a similar approach could accelerate among companies that before Sept. 11 were beginning to realize the benefits of collaborative business. Prodded for details, Mike mentioned that one of Information Builders' clients, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, had a large number of employees in one of the Trade Center towers working on a strategic project involving his company's products and services. With those offices obliterated, Information Builders invited that Empire Blue Cross team to start working within IBI's headquarters in midtown Manhattan, allowing the project to keep moving forward--and also giving a new and improved view of the term "co-location."

So is this regeneration stuff a lot of nonsense? If before Sept. 11 the concept of collaborative business was clouded by the notion that companies could trust each other and share meaningful information in a timely fashion to their mutual benefit, then in the wake of Sept. 11 are companies now so clearly focused on security, disaster recovery, and data protection that they'll be less likely to collaborate with partners and suppliers and customers? Or is there a chance that the horrendous events of last month will give many companies a fresh look at how they go about doing what they do? How far do we go in pushing disaster-recovery, contingency, and business-continuity agendas at the expense of all else? Is there room for collaborative business in the reality of what's unfolding? Please let us know what you think.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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