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The Human Factor Behind IT

I recently tried to write an article isolating how our view of the human role in IT became more compassionate after Sept 11. Juxtaposing two discussions, I thought I had found a point in time where the mirror changed reflections, where the way we saw our work had changed, but that point wasn't really there.

Rick Saia said, "This doesn't seem true to me. Why don't you just ask them directly, 'Did Sept 11 make you more compassionate, and change your attitude about the human factor behind IT?'"

I did, and the answers I got back were more complex, thought-provoking, and insighful than any imagining could have been. Members gave me permission to share their letters and invite everyone else to share their views.
Barbara A Steinberg , Computerworld



 * Mike Howard , BlueSpline   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:22pm (1.) Reply

I can't speak for the whole of the UK, or the whole of Europe, but I do think we in the old world have a slightly different view of Sept 11th than people living in the US. There's no doubt that the tragic destruction of the WTC, and the other atrocities at the Pentagon, the infected packages, etc touched the lives of Europeans. Although it wasn't the first recent example of serious terrorism on your mainland - cf. Oklahoma - I suspect that at the back of many European's minds was the thought that the US might finally understand what it's like to live with the threat of constant terrorism -
such as has been the case in Italy, Spain, Eire, UK, Holland, Germany, and others over the last few decades. I know this ignores the fact that the US has a far higher level of violent crime than any European country (perhaps all of them put together).

So, did Sept 11th make us more compassionate, more people focused? I don't think so. I think we, in Europe, already were.


 * Michael E Anderson , Bisys   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:27pm (2.) Reply

I am having some difficulty answering this question. I guess the best description is that I am somewhat "conflicted." The direct answer is yes, I do feel that Sept 11 made me much more compassionate about the human factor behind IT. I find myself much more concerned about IT staffers and the user experience. I feel much stronger about their job security and livelihood. But, I also have a business to run. The extended recession, slow recovery, and need to turn a profit has all business leaders looking at ways to cut costs and manage expenses. Point number two is in direct conflict with point number one. When things are tough economically, companies may have to make difficult decisions that impact a few to save the many.


 * William Cahill , Loyola University   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:40pm (3.) Reply

I read two questions here.

Did Sept 11 make you more compassionate? Yes, Sept 11 changed me, as it changed us all, the events of that day where so disturbingly and profoundly evil that I was severely shaken, and as time has passed, I have reflectively reshaped my thinking, values and approaches to life, in many positive ways.

"Did Sept 11 change your attitude about the human factor behind IT?" Not in a specific way, I had developed over my career a very deep respect for the human factor in IT. Notice the use of in, rather than behind. So Sept 11 reshaped my attitudes towards all, and that would include IT, people. So I still and now even more firmly believe that people are the value of technology enterprises. They are not interchangeable, and are not a commodity. Only through developing, supporting and compensating long-term employees can an IT organization grow...


 * Joseph A Puglisi , EMCOR Group, Inc.   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:45pm (4.) Reply

I have no more or less compassion for my fellow staff than I did on September 10 of this year. I have always valued my staff as team members in whom I place a great deal of trust. I have always viewed my customers (so-called users) as important. I know a manage with a sign in his office that says, "The customer is the reason we are here."

9/11 was tragic and changed me, the country and the world forever. It had many profound effects on people, myself included. But, I would have to conclude that I did not change my business practices, beliefs or methods in any way as a result. We are more focused on BCP and we continue to be aware of increased levels of risk in travel and other daily conduct. But this is the extent of the impact it has had for me in the business world.


 * Mike Howard , BlueSpline   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:53pm (5.) Reply

Personal involvement in a tragedy always has more impact than being 3,000 miles away. Triumph in the face of adversity, no matter how small, will pull a team together and make them aware of each other as people - that's the basis of all these outward bound/survivor type management training courses. The WTC, in particular, directly touched so many people's lives that it is bound to have a noticeable effect at least in the short term. As a youngster growing up in the 60s and 70s a major focus of the entertainment media - films, comics, books, art, etc - was WWII. Our childhood heroes were war heroes. The media still flashes back to this as a theme, but there have been other wars and society has changed. So a tragedy even of that magnitude really only impacted directly on our culture for 20 to 30 years. I predict that WTC will fade, especially once the space has been filled in for a few years with new buildings.

It's going to become one of the totem questions for the next 50 years - do you remember where you were when you heard about the destruction of the WTC? Rather like - where were you when you heard that Kennedy had been shot? Unfortunately, it will carry no value.


 * Jay S Hemmady , Bidwell   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:55pm (6.) Reply

On the topic of post 9/11, I think that now that the scars have healed, I can't say compassion rules. Back then my point on disaster recovery was that while systems have redundancies that can be kicked into high gear when things fail, humans don't! As a result when disaster strikes, the one's least impacted physically are often most vulnerable at a psychological level and their performance can be hindered severely. The 'survivors' experience a severe 'survivor syndrome' and experience high levels of anxiety and guilt. Under such circumstances, their performance is just not predictable - some rise to the occasion while others just can't. Some have lingering issues afterwards. Some are impacted at a personal level and won't be able to respond. I was just curious in that dialog to see if others had seen the same impact as I had.


 * Roger J Gray , Pacific Gas and Electric Co   ET Jun 19, 2002 3:57pm (7.) Reply

I am not sure 9/11 changed my views on the human factor behind IT because fundamentally, it has always been about people and communication in my judgement and not about IT. I think that the thing many people learned from 9/11 is that DR is fine for losing infratstructure, but what happens when you lose 80% of your company like the one bond trading company did.

9/11 has had virtually no impact on how we view disaster recovery and emergency management because we always have planned for major events. I guess the only way we look at 9/11 that is different is that we (as a company) can do a lot to mitigate the impacts of things like earthquakes e.g. seismic improvements of facilities, etc.), but I am not sure what we do to stop terrorist attacks.


 * Harold L Goldberg , IMG Americas, Inc.   ET Jun 19, 2002 4:48pm (8.)  * Reply

I'm trying not to be too cynical, the compassion after 9/11 was wide spread; it was touching to find human beings could be so human. The emotions, the gestures the acts of giving and caring were, maybe, unsurpassed in all of time and yes this definitely flowed over into the IT / End user dynamic. I definitely experienced a change from my own perspective and the inbound attitude from others definitely eased up, at least for awhile. Unfortunately, the human memory is short, and people need to be continuously reminded.... maybe 30-45 days after 9/11 the hammer re-appeared in my IT world and the old attitudes re-emerged.

Maybe people are mostly afraid (anxious might be a better word) quite a bit of the time and move back and forth between the different things that scare them. We each react differently, in many cases strong emotions emerge from what is unknown to us, what scares us, some times with anger, some times we reach out with love. Well 9/11 scared us plenty, it made us mad and it made us love each other a lot more. Technology is a mystery to many, it scares many and it makes many quite mad at times.... I personally am still waiting for the love to emerge!


 * Richard l Hudson , Hudson   ET Jul 11, 2002 8:00am (9.)  * Reply

I believe all of us were touched by the events of Sept.11th, but those without compassion or empathy for people in I.T. before 9/11 probably are still the same. Most of the CIOs I talk with during the course of a year are aware of the human condition in I.T. and I doubt if this changed as well. Unless you are located in New York City you shouldn't have strayed to far off your course. The CIO/CTO job is too demanding to let you fail to perform due to a tragic situation in a distant location. All successful I.T. executives have good to excellent interpersonal skills and a real regard for their staffs. I don't think the events of 9/11 materially changed many CIO/CTOs.


 * Maynard C Wiff , Dover Corporation   ET Jul 11, 2002 1:09pm (10.)  * Reply

I work in Manhattan since January 2002, but still live outside NYC. People in NYC are pretty focused on the whole 9/11 thing, but I observe that the level of concern/compassion among New Yorkers was higher then than it is now. Outside of NYC, in the rest of America, there is some degree of feeling that it is time to get over it and move on. The comment from Mike Howard reflects a view I found common from outside the U.S.; which was, this goes on lots of places, now it's happened to you, it's very tragic and sad, but don't think you're completely unique - we've all been there for a while.

For people who lost someone personally close to them, or lived close to the site, 9/11 may prove to be a life-changing event. For others, I don't think it will change their fundamental character. People will return to their routine, with adjustments as necessary for changes like air travel security. I can't see that interpersonal relationships for millions will be significantly altered.


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