Harden IT systems and protect people, says EDS chief

To ensure economic stability in these troubled times, businesses and governments need to digitize their processes, store data in secure locations, design redundant systems and have continuity plans in effect, said the head of one of the world’s foremost IT players.

In an address yesterday to Toronto’s Empire Club, Dick Brown, CEO of the Dallas-based IT services behemoth Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS), told the blue-suited assembly of Canadian public- and private-sector leaders that the world has little choice but to implement large-scale “hardening” of its information systems.

“Companies can no longer pool their most critical people and technologies in a limited number of locations – decentralization on a global basis, using outsourcing if necessary, significantly reduces the likelihood of irreparable loss,” he said.

Brown’s address – part rallying cry, part EDS sales pitch and part IT crisis-response primer – also cited employee safety as a top priority.

“Information technologies depend on the people who design, program, implement, maintain and upgrade them. Those professionals must be protected by detailed evacuation plans, equipment and training,” he said.

Founded in 1962 by H. Ross Perot -later made a household name by his presidential ambitions – EDS pioneered the IT outsourcing business. After the company’s profits and prestige stagnated through the IT gold rush of the mid-1990s, Brown was appointed CEO in late 1998, and is today widely credited for EDS’ recent return to profitability and a leadership role within the industry.

In a later media briefing, Brown told reporters that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, both EDS and its customers share a heightened appreciation of the need for information security.

“We’ve had 150 per cent increase from the marketplace inquiring to us (about) the protection of information, encryption abilities, layering protections, policies to protect company Web sites and databases, also backup and recovery plans. Because without your IT systems you haven’t got the nerve centre, and I think, more and more, business and governments are realizing that they need help, not only operating those systems efficiently, but securing those systems,” Brown said.

Noting that globally EDS finds and confronts 20,000 viruses every 30 days, Brown also cited keeping ahead of cyberterrorism in the from of “extremely dangerous, intrusive, harmful viruses and bugs that have cost – conservatively – business and government billions of dollars” as another pressing concern.

Finally, in the post dot-com era, filled with economic and geopolitical uncertainty, the aspect of his US$20 billion, 128,000-person company that costs Brown the most sleep is maintaining its human capital, he said.

“What really keeps me up at night, all the time, is to be sure EDS has the best people in our industry working for us – keeping those people, (ensuring) that they are trained on leading edge technologies, and that they stay creative resourceful and imaginative about protecting our clients’ information.”

EDS is at www.eds.com

The Empire Club of Canada is at www.empireclubfoundation.com.