Tech Exec Tapped For Recovery

Technology plays such an important role in American Express' business-continuation plans that it chose IT leader Ray DuBois as VP of business renewal
Ray DuBois is no stranger to big responsibilities. A 14-year veteran of American Express Co., he's spent the last four years heading the company's IT service-management group, overseeing a staff of 1,600 in 22 countries who manage distributed technology systems, including PCs, phones, and all of the infrastructure that supports net-work and voice operations. As DuBois says in a characteristically understated fashion, "It kept me off the street."

In the wake of Sept. 11, he has earned new responsibilities and a new title: VP of business renewal. Two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the chairman of American Express called DuBois and asked him to take on the role, recognizing that accelerating plans to deploy thin-client technology would be a critical part of the recovery for the company, which was headquartered across the street from the twin towers. The importance of his work to American Express is clear. He reports directly to Steve Carl, senior VP of technologies, and indirectly to executive VP and CIO Glen Salow. He also reports informally to every senior manager on American Express' global leadership team, including the chairman.

DuBois possesses two critical assets, Salow says: experience as a leader in both the customer-service group and the technologies organization. "Knowing your way around the company and knowing the importance of quality service to your customers would be key measures of success during the business-renewal process," Salow adds. "Ray was a natural fit."

While the technology component of American Express' business-renewal plans is clearly important, it's only part of the recovery equation. "This is going to take a well-coordinated effort across the entire company," DuBois says. He's charged with working across all business lines to ensure they're restoring business quickly and effectively, keeping recovery-effort spending in control, and making sure business-continuation plans are followed. To help with that tall order, he has a core team, a "manageable eight," from multiple business areas, including human resources, finance, real estate, insurance, and communications.

After Sept. 11, the company moved its headquarters to Jersey City, N.J., and set up three other temporary offices in New Jersey and one in Stamford, Conn. Thin-client technology helped the company quickly turn relocated workers into productive employees. American Express already had been exploring thin-client technology with Compaq before September, but the need for a rapid, low-maintenance solution prompted the company to kick that effort into high gear.

Ray DuBois

When disaster occurs, the most important recovery of all is people, American Express VP DuBois says.
"It's a much lower-cost solution and a faster deploy," DuBois says. With Compaq's help, American Express set up server-based computing. About 5,000 employees were relocated, and 1,700 of them were equipped with thin-client technology. They had system access restored by Oct. 8, about three to four weeks sooner than if other technology had been used, he says. "If we took laptops and deployed them for everyone, I'd have to configure them and load software--that's a pretty time-consuming process."

DuBois' greatest challenge initially was managing the overwhelming offers of assistance from the vendor community--one of his first tasks was to appoint someone to assess those offers and ensure everyone received responses.

Under a business-continuation plan that includes a disaster-recovery site in New Jersey, American Express was able to have its bank systems, which were in the World Trade Center complex, back online in a few hours and executing trades for customers. But for DuBois, the real surprise was the response of fellow employees. "The best-laid plans of technology solutions come down to the quality of individuals who are executing against those plans. People rose to the occasion."

That was the case with some American Express employees in Phoenix who had expertise in a critical application. "The application needed to be restored fast," DuBois says. Solution: The Phoenix employees "did a quick assessment, loaded up the truck, and drove across the country nonstop to the East Coast." In two days, they had the application set up. "You don't write that into a business-continuation plan," he says.

The company already is assessing lessons learned to determine what could be done better next time. DuBois says there's one thing companies should never underestimate. "We tend to think in terms of technology recovery and a business recovery. But when disaster occurs, the most important recovery of all is people," he says. "Make sure you've really thought through your plans on people. Make sure you've really thought through how you'll communicate with people--the types of information they need to know and when they need to know it."

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