Hi-tech takes a backseat to people for EDS chief

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Technology alone cannot provide solutions for success in the digital economy.

That’s one of the points Dick Brown, chairman and CEO of Plano, Tex.-based EDS, shared during his Comdex Fall 2001 keynote speech Tuesday.

“For years, we created technology, then took it in search of questions to be answered, problems to be solved,” Brown told his audience. “But technology is not a panacea. Technology alone cannot, will not, sustain competitive advantage in today’s services-driven economy.”

He said the complexity of issues companies face daily extend beyond technology — the questions asked and solutions provided must do the same.

“Building toward the future is a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s not the technology that drives the answers, it’s the questions. We must listen intently, ask unsettling questions, questions that can disrupt cherished business models.”

People and issues, not technology, have to be at placed at the centre of work, and only after that should technology be applied, said Brown, noting the emphasis on interconnectivity and interoperability at Comdex this year.

Although companies are quick to show how smart and integrated devices can be, problems arise when technology is the only focus, he said.

“The starting point is not how everything plugs together. That is not the solution. We must start with human needs, ask the right questions and seek the appropriate answers.”

According to Brown, it’s also time for the IT industry to collaborate in tackling one of today’s most urgent business issues, ensuring trust among people and institutions so society can function during periods of uncertainty or threat.

On average, three new software viruses are released every day, causing US$17 billion in damages in 2000, said Brown. He added that the erosion of trust could lead to something akin to the fractured society of medieval Europe, where travelers could not trust their governments to protect their valuables or ensure their safety.

Today’s currency, knowledge and information, rather than coins, needs to be protected, he said.

“People today are feeling less safe, less trusting, more like those medieval travelers,” he said.

“Without the safety that flows from trust, commerce slows and investment stops.” After the attacks of Sept. 11, most US federal dollar response has been directed toward guards, bombs and bullets, rather than to the protection of the information infrastructure, said Brown.

“This is ironic, given it was infrastructure that kept America working following the attacks on our physical assets,” he said. “We are just as vulnerable to an electronic Pearl Harbor as we were on Sept. 10.”

Brown said leaders and security practitioners must expand their questions, answers and imagination to address the issues of security, business continuity and disaster recovery. “It’s time such planning becomes a fundamental practice for both government and business — this will be the new ‘business as usual.'”

The keynote also included a special appearance by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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