What Price 'Safe'?

Katherine GraysonWhen it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity, is there such a thing as too much technology?

I am biased, of course, but I enjoyed this summer’s Campus Technology 2006 in Boston almost more than I can say. Reason number one: the opportunity it gave me for face time with many of the technology visionaries we cover during the editorial year. Reason number two: the opportunity to experience no end of live panel discussions on topics of particular interest to me. One such dialogue was that which took place on August 2, when former Tulane University (LA) CIO John Lawson and Louisiana State University CIO Brian Voss came together for the afternoon’s General Session, “In Case of Disaster, Break Glass: Reacting to Extreme Change,” moderated by Middle Tennessee State CIO Lucinda Lea. (To see and hear their discussion, go here.)

What was so interesting to me—and I assume to many of the three hundred or so session attendees—was the fact that the panelists did not focus on the drill-down of their tactical responses to the Katrina disaster, but on more philosophical issues.

They reminded their audience that people and priorities are more important than securing the best and newest technology to deliver ourselves from the possibility of evil. They even ran the oftreplayed footage of a despondent Katrina victim who had lost his wife (“everything I had”) in the rising waters, just to highlight the fact that no technology could have prevented much of the disaster, or ameliorated it. It was people, they reminded us, who rose above all else and often delivered the impossible in the face of personal crisis. Although technology can help—and, certainly, improving systems we now understand need improving is prudent—in the face of calamity, it is people, they insisted, who ultimately make the difference.

Moreover, they added, no level of hitech preparedness can ever be guaranteed to be enough, or to be precisely the right kind of technological preparation for any given disaster. How easy it would be to assuage our fear of future catastrophe by constructing a fortress of systems and tools! But that would not only be no assurance of safety, the panelists pointed out, it would represent a conscious decision to move dollars (always a finite commodity in institutions of higher education) away from the provision of learning—and the mandate to educate our students is the reason that institutions of higher learning exist.

So, how much of a technological buildup is too much? And what are the people and process issues that must be weighed in the balance? Surely these are the true considerations of a CIO worth his or her salt; considerations that senior technologists must weigh each and every day as they face new challenges. We’ll have another chance to examine the demands campus technologists face—and their unique approaches to these challenges— in our upcoming “101 Best Practices: Smart Classroom, Connectivity, Administrative IT.” Send a brief (200 words or less) description of your own best practices in any of these three areas to rkelly@1105media.com, with the subject line “Best Practices.” The deadline is September 30. We want to know how your own institution is balancing the intelligent use of people, process, and tools.

Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief What have you seen and heard? Send to: kgrayson@1105media.com.

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