Business Technology: Strength In Adversity - InformationWeek

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02:59 PM

Business Technology: Strength In Adversity

The economy stinks (doesn't it?), we're engulfed by uncertainty (aren't we?), companies are hacking away at payrolls (aren't they?), projects are being suspended or flat-out canceled (right?), and the much-touted primacy of ongoing IT investments has been busted apart like a cheap suitcase (hasn't it?). We're not equipped to cope with disasters, our business-continuity capabilities hang by threads, we're vulnerable, our data and information and knowledge are too centralized, there's risk all around us, we don't have enough people--right? And worst of all, what if nobody buys anything for Christmas?

Over the past several months, I've said some of these things and heard all of them--some many times. Hard times can trigger doubt and uncertainty, questions and confusion, and I think most people would agree that these are hard times for the technology and information industries, the IT profession, our economy, and our country. But I also think it's precisely in times like these that some combination of human nature and this country's collective spirit come together to give us, first, perspective on just how good or bad things really are, and second, the inner strength and commitment to lace up the boots a little tighter and focus on getting things back on track and moving forward.

I'm writing this on Dec. 7, 60 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and early this morning I listened to interviews with survivors of those attacks who described, in distinctly matter-of-fact language, acts of unimaginable courage and selflessness as more than 2,400 of their comrades were killed. This week will mark three months since the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and Flight 93 killed more than 3,400 people, a harrowing number that would have been much higher were it not for a huge number of heroic efforts by everyday people. This column comes one week after our Dec. 3 issue highlighted the extraordinary leadership, courage, intelligence, and power of will of eight IT executives, including one who died, who were named Chiefs of the Year by InformationWeek "for the roles they played in leading their companies and staffs through the cataclysmic events of Sept. 11" (see "Standing Strong,";

The stories of these eight heroes--and I'd invite anyone who thinks I'm stretching it by using that term to read or reread the accounts of what each of these people did on and since Sept. 11--involve technology, to be sure, and they involve concepts such as best practices and contingency planning and backup plans. But more than anything, I think, the stories reflect courage, selflessness, honor, and an indomitable outlook in the face of what to many others could have been overwhelming physical and emotional horror.

Consider this snippet from the profile of Greg Burnham, chief technology officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, based in the towers: "As the World Trade Center's south tower started to fall, forcing out a dust-laden blast of air so violent it smacked Gregory Burnham to the ground, his first thought was how cruel he'd been to give his wife false hope. 'I'd called her five minutes earlier and told her I was alive, and now I was dead,' Burnham says. 'I was sure I would be crushed by falling debris.'" The work he and his colleagues then undertook--astonishingly difficult in perfect conditions, almost impossible to imagine in the midst of so much loss, shock, and grief--can be measured in part by the fact that on Sept. 13, the agency was able to make payroll for all of its 7,000 employees.

So do we really have it so bad right now? Are we really so powerless, subject to the caprice of forces beyond our control? Or does each of us have it in our power to strive for some of that remarkable fortitude and spirit that these eight heroes and thousands of their colleagues demonstrated so richly? I've had the great good fortune to observe for InformationWeek the workings of the business-technology world for the past six years, and I've seen you people change how the world works, learns, plays, and innovates. And only a fool would bet against your potential for creating an even greater future.

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