Crisis management

Missing In Action:

The CEO of Network Associates.

The chief strategy officer at Borland Software.

Executives from Xerox’s color printing division.

Don’t worry, they’re not among the unfortunate victims of last week’s terrorist attack in the United States. They’re just some of the many industry players who had to cancel plans last week to come to Canada and launch new products, discuss fresh strategies or conduct roundtables. There will be more cancellations this week, and probably the next.

It’s hard to imagine other people who rack up as many frequent flyer miles than those who specialize in the marketing of technology products. It will be interesting to see — as airport security tightens and a general fear of flying spreads in reaction to the World Trade Center collapse — how important remote access and teleworking will become to these workers. This would seem like a good time to dust off those plans to implement a videoconferencing solution, or to explore e-learning opportunities instead of travelling long distances to upgrade your skills.

Some things, however, can’t be avoided. The big challenge for technology companies now will be getting anyone’s attention as a potential world war heats up. Who cares about the machinations of Microsoft and its new operating system, or the long-term fallout of a possible merger between HP and Compaq, when terrorists are breathing down our necks?

No one really knows how to play it. On Monday Apple cancelled its Expo in France. Oracle, which suffered some casualties during Tuesday’s disaster, released its financial results with uncharacteristic solemnity. Only research and consulting firms, like Gartner, or disaster recovery experts, like Toronto’s CBL, have much noise to make.

Though it seems heartless to carry on with day-to-day activities, after you’ve given blood, made your donation to the United Way and said some prayers, what else is there to do? There are too many IT problems that haven’t been solved to lose sight of the business challenges we face. We have networks that don’t speak to each other. We have personal computing interfaces that need to be more intuitive. We are enduring a sluggish market for PCs that demands value-added applications and services to revive it.

If nothing else, perhaps the gravity of the last week will encourage a deeper level of focus to the mission-critical elements of the corporate enterprise that truly deserve the notice of IT managers distracted by the violence. As some of the affected companies in the U.S. try to weather the crisis, there may be something to be learned in the way they rebuild their infrastructure, in many cases from scratch.

Our perspectives have clearly changed, but the only thing worse than navel gazing — which I think it’s safe to say the high-tech industry has been guilty of — is tunnel vision. We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing has happened; neither can we ignore the needs of our business partners, our suppliers or our customers. At a time that calls for great courage, the bravest act can be continuing to do what you do best.

sschick@plesman.com

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