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At Gartner show, analysts try to gauge war's impact on IT

A panel of Gartner analysts weigh in with some ideas on how businesses should protect themselves during war.

SAN DIEGO -- Most of the headlines are coming from the Middle East, and much of the anxiety rests with the families and friends of the troops serving overseas, with Iraqi-Americans and with others who have family and loved ones in the area.

The battles hit close to home, but the question many IT pros are asking is, 'how does the war hit the office?' After all, the globalization of IT has broken down many barriers, but has likewise exposed businesses to the tensions and uncertainties of geopolitical drama.

A gaggle of Gartner Inc. analysts gathered at the firm's Symposium/ITxpo this week for a town hall meeting to address the effects of global unrest on IT.

As far as IT budgets are concerned, there will be little impact, according to Gartner vice president and research director French Caldwell. He said that most IT budgets are up to 18 months away from their next cycles. Research group director and vice president Vince Oliva added that some of the more tangible effects could be the instability of currencies, a spike in war risk insurance policies, and the destruction of outsourcing contracts.

David Neil, a vice president and research director with the Stamford, Conn.-based firm, said that the key issue during war is security education. Many IT execs think that their networks are impregnable, and they have a false sense of security. A lot of disaster recovery planning and testing was done after September 11, but now that the infamous date is further in the past, there seems to be a "business as usual" attitude about protection. Firms that feel they're on secure ground need to match their confidence with vigilance.

"Make sure you're resilient. Otherwise, the network goes down, and you go out of business," Neil said.

Dan Miklovic, a Gartner vice president and research director, said that businesses become more vulnerable the longer the conflict in Iraq lasts. He pointed out that many of the protesters who've been arrested worldwide are well-educated and probably tech-savvy. If they have access to the right resources, their protests could hit the streets of cyberspace and pose threats to the firms in their path.

One member of the audience said that an IT guy in his small organization was called up to duty and could be gone for more than a year. Now what?

Personnel issues are leaving businesses -- many of which have few resources to spare -- in a bind, as IT workers answer Uncle Sam's call. The analysts said that during internationally tense times, businesses need to bone up on backups for both workers and workstations. More than 66% of a firm's mission-critical data is on desktops and laptops, according to Gartner research director Rich Mogull, who was also on the town hall panel. That figure makes backups a no-brainer.

But the brains need backups, too. Employing part-timers, sharing workers with other companies, and using consultants were all recommended as ways of backing up employees who may have to ship out for an appreciable length of time.

Some businesses aren't losing their varsity employees to Uncle Sam -- they're losing them to fear. One analyst said that he's seen more and more experts who don't want to travel. So, for example, if a firm's IT expert works out of Boston, there's a problem in the Dallas office, and she doesn't feel comfortable getting on a plane, then what? It's another scenario in which a CIO might wish the firm had understudies for its IT stars.

And what technology seems to be the "star" of this war? The analysts agreed that GPS technology is the marquee player, offering great precision without a great price tag. The business world will likely see it make its way into the IT infrastructure on a greater scale once its "tour" of Iraq is complete.

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