IT Execs Look Back On Challenges Six Months After Sept. 11


Disaster-recovery plans, business continuity processes and intellectual capital safeguarding have been issues brought to the forefront in recent years, particularly after Sept. 11.

IT executives shared their experiences of rebuilding and refocusing here at the annual spring conference held by InformationWeek, a sister publication to VARBusiness.

"The amount of collaboration that took place [was quite spectacular," says Ravi Apte, chief technology officer and executive vice president of the American Stock Exchange. "On Sept. 17, we went to the New York Stock Exchange and operated our equities business, which was unimagined six days before that."

Also more than 400 American Stock Exchange traders temporarily worked among Philadelphia Stock Exchange traders, Apte says.

"We were up and running with information systems and technology on the 12th, and we moved back into full-force trading on Oct. 1," says Apte.

Losing about $30 million a day because of grounded planes, Continental Airlines was forced to rely on its systems as it hadn't before, says Continental Airlines' CIO and senior vice president Janet Wejman.

"We had to reschedule the airline, which was something that usually would take a month, [and it took days," Wejman says.

The idea of Continental and other airline carriers going out of business was a serious possibility, she says.

"We were able to use the system we had with the creative power of our people to get the airline back in four days, which was really unheard of," Wejman says.

Planning for conceivable as well as unthinkable disaster scenarios is beneficial, but impossible, says Steve Bass, senior vice president of IT at the New York Board of Trade, the world's leading exchange for soft commodities.

"No matter how well you plan, you haven't done it all," Bass says.

Greg Burnham, chief technology officer and senior officer for information and automation technologies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was on the 71st floor in tower one of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Burnham says the most remarkable lesson he learned after Sept. 11 was how inventive and creative his staff could be when left to their own devices.

"They cannibalized the data center, basically, and did some things that I'm sure management would've interfered with if they had a chance," he says. "But [it managed to get us running and make payroll on Sept. 13."

More than 600 people at international law firm Sidley Austin Brown and Wood were in the World Trade Center. Many now work in the firm's midtown Manhattan offices, but will be relocated, along with new technology systems, this summer.

The firm's IT systems and its functions are nearly back to normal, says Nancy Karen, CIO of Sidley Austin Brown and Wood.

"I'm realizing that things can happen that are unimaginable," Karen says. "We need to have very modular, very flexible plans that we can apply."

The hefty task of balancing an IT budget under financial restraints while preparing for future IT needs remains a challenge for some executives, despite heightened awareness for disaster recovery needs as a result of the attacks.

Still, the most challenging aspects of developing business continuity plans are getting the funding and approval for them, Bass says.

"Putting a plan together is easy, but trying to convince your board to spend the money on something that's never going to happen is really the most difficult part," he says. "You have an open window now in terms of being able to say, 'Look, it could happen,' [and let's take advantage of that because you're not getting another opportunity like this, hopefully."

However, as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, other executives are finding their management team more willing to spend money, particularly in the areas of security, disaster recovery and business continuity needs.

"We certainly have the dollars we need for security," says Wejman of Continental Airlines. "Much of the investment we made over the last five years we were able to utilize in this environment."

The same applies to the American Stock Exchange, according to Apte.

"We have not really seen a change in approach from the CFO and other senior management in how we decide technology projects," he says. "The industry itself is going through a downturn, which puts a different kind of financial pressure on us, but that notwithstanding, we haven't seen any change as a result of 9/11."

One IT executive from the crowd shared his thoughts and disagreed with the notion that CFOs and senior-level management, at least at his company, are receptive to spending dollars on IT projects, even those that involve security.

"We make parts for the airline industry%85 and I find the budgeting process as tight as it's ever been," he said. "I get in that situation in our meetings where unless we're directly related to an ROI in making parts, it's very hard to get funds."