By the Book

Byte Wars, the Impact of September 11 on Information Technology

By Edward Yourdon

Prentice Hall

314 pages, $37.99

In post-Sept. 11 America, there has been a lot of mirror gazing in an attempt to come to terms with what went wrong and how society can change to prevent a reoccurrence.

In Edward Yourdon’s book Byte Wars, the Impact of September 11 on Information Technology, he talks about a paradigm shift where individuals in the IT industry specifically, and the public in general, start to take more responsibility for their own survival and safety in times of disaster. He cites the “communication networks that were stitched together by desperate family members and business colleagues in the hours immediately following the WTC attack,” as an example.

It is Yourdon’s belief that “individual citizens and corporate employees will put more faith in these ad hoc networks…to cope with the…sometimes untrustworthy flow of information from official channels.”

Simply put, Yourdon appears to be the quintessential libertarian, one who believes in free will and bottom-up solutions to problems.

Regardless of his social leanings, his advice makes sense, and Sept. 11 seems to have given him the opportunity to speak out. A major beef though, is that the title of the book is a little misleading. The suggestions Yourdon brings forth are little related to the events of Sept. 11. In fact, the same book could have been written about Y2K or any other event with technology implications. In Yourdon’s defence, it seems the technology industry needs calamity, or the potential for it, to react and get the lead out. Maybe his book will help.

Yourdon covers the strategic implications of 9/11, security and risk management. There is also a lengthy discussion on different types of IT systems, from “good enough” to “death march” projects. For each section Yourdon concludes with some specific advice directed at government leaders, senior corporate executives, mid-level IT managers, IT professionals and the general populace.

At times Yourdon takes a little long to get to the point, and this detracts from the overall read. Fewer analogies would help.

If there is one fault to find, and it is common south of the border, it is his American-centric view point. No one would claim they suffered more than the Americans from the 9/11 disaster, but the lesson learned is that technology knows no boundaries. If the U.S. heeds Yourdon’s advice in a national vacuum, it won’t be of much use. Issues like security – and technology’s failings at gathering intelligence – have global implications.