There are few certainties in life, right? But two things I can always count on this time of year are an unusually large number of ladybugs in my yard and around my office window, and Christmas decorations making their way into every conceivable public spot--the mall, the grocery store, the doctor's office, the post office, you name it. I assume this is lady-bug breeding season. Either that or they just like to hang out here on their way to somewhere else, but since they're known for bringing good luck, I always welcome them. And normally I'd complain about how silly it is to have Christmas décor out even before Halloween, but this year it's rather nice--a reminder that festive, fun events are ahead of us.
With the ongoing sluggish economy, there are few certainties in business, either. The attacks of Sept. 11 have raised awareness about other types of uncertainties. That's causing companies of all sizes and employees at all levels to get serious about business-continuity preparedness. Even those who already have plans in place are rethinking all angles. In this week's cover package, senior editor Martin J. Garvey examines new (and less expensive) ways companies can ensure availability of critical data in the event of a disaster (p. 22). Also, senior editor Paul McDougall explores new services from IBM that use something called "autonomic" intelligence, which helps keep business operations running through self-regulation techniques ("IBM Moves To Plug Holes In Disaster Recover"). And senior editor John Rendleman tracks Verizon's progress in getting New York City's telecom infrastructure back up to speed and finding ways of averting other problems in the future ("Back Online").
Getting back to Christmas for a minute, the retail industry has its own set of uncertainties to deal with as it gears up for a holiday shopping season in which consumer confidence is in short supply. Information technology, already an important component to managing seasonal buying and customer experiences, is being relied on more than ever. According to one industry expert, retailers are being dealt a double whammy--they must choose the right goods to sell, and they must choose the right amount of those goods to sell. On page 38, associate editor Christopher T. Heun looks at how retailers are using technology to keep a closer eye on inventory, distribution, and markdown decisions. If it's done right, you shouldn't expect to see any major bargain-basement after-Christmas sales this year.