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A sordid side of IT

On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, a colleague forwarded me an e-mail she received with the comment, "Unbelievable!" That message, from a vendor that will remain nameless, described what it saw as the tragic events of the previous day. I paraphrase the e-mail: "Witness the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center, as millions of pieces of paper blew through the streets of New York. Documents lost forever. Do you have a document recovery plan in place? Protect your company's most important asset—its information."

Since that e-mail blast arrived a mere 24 hours after the attacks meant that someone in that company spent part of that horrible day writing a marketing piece about how his or her company could capitalize on those events. Everyone in our office was outraged with what we considered the most callous marketing message imaginable, and I called the company's marketing manager, asking just how could she conceivably be equating pieces of paper flying through the air when thousands died and people were, quite literally, jumping out of buildings to their deaths? How could they call information a company's most important asset when people were dead, dying and trapped in rubble? Nonplussed, she responded, "Well, I don't see anything wrong with that at all."

Why do I bring this up nearly three years later? Well, I've witnessed some similar business insensitivity surrounding In-Q-Tel, whose Greg Pepus I recently interviewed (see page 1). At a small conference last spring, I overheard a software salesman--I didn't catch the name of his company--say, "One of the good things about 9/11 is that In-Q-Tel might take notice and give us some funding."

"One" of the good things? OK, let's hear about the others. That is merely one of many such examples. My point is that a number of marginal vendors in our "space" look to In-Q-Tel for a funding windfall. I want to emphasize, though, that none of the companies mentioned in the interview fall into that category, and in no way are we encouraging vendors to look to the organization for financial bailout.

Perhaps one of the most interesting statements Pepus makes is that In-Q-Tel invests in companies in a manner that gives it a seat in the boardroom so it can monitor the health of the company and, likely, influence the direction of its software development. Although the interview focuses on some of the companies that fall into our broader definition of knowledge management, In-Q-Tel's investments extend beyond that category and into the larger IT universe. And, I like to think that while technology may drive its investments, In-Q-Tel realizes the intelligence community needs more than technology and information to achieve its goals, as we heard most specifically in the findings of the 9/11 Commission.

So, in that sense, sophisticated technology is essential to support any organization's most valuable asset--its people.

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