IT will never be the same again

After the appalling World Trade Center attacks we can be certain life will never be quite the same. Taking that as a given, it’s no trick to predict there will be some great changes in the way we live our lives and run our businesses. And, of course, one of the major questions facing businesses is our willingness to travel.

Virtually everyone travelling in the last few weeks has had to rethink their arrangements because airline flights were changed or abandoned or because the conference they were supposed to attend was cancelled or rescheduled. In short, it was anything but business as usual.

People who have travelled by air in the last couple of weeks talk about flights one-third full and cut-rate fares. Las Vegas, I hear, has a room-occupancy rate of 10 per cent, and Miami is a tourist ghost town. And on top of that, trains all over the country are packed.

People just don’t want to travel now and when they need to, air travel isn’t what they will choose and, I suspect, won’t want to choose for some months to come. Besides added jitters, there is added inconvenience. According to a pundit on National Public Radio, you should plan to add at least 3 hours to most domestic U.S. air journeys for the next few months.

I fear (or should that be rejoice) this will mark the end of many trade shows we used to treat as critical to our businesses. The impact on the economies of the cities that routinely host these events – such as New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Atlanta – will likely be dire for some considerable period.

But what about interacting with people and companies for reasons such as selling them stuff?

While the need for going and “pressing palms” will never completely disappear, there will now be an increasing demand for telephone conferences, videoconferences and Web-mediated meetings.

This has, in turn, further consequences, most notably that if we change our travel habits significantly for even a few months, we can expect that to drive other organizational changes.

For example, in the past week I’ve been talking to a few companies that are thinking of hiring more local representatives and local managers to reduce travel as much as possible.

The result of this kind of business rethinking over a year or more will lead to more demand for Web-based and computer-based training, a huge demand for cellular telephones and plain old telephone service, and of course there will be a huge need for improved high-speed communications for all those teleworkers.

For you, my IT brethren, the consequences could be truly profound. Are you ready to deal with scores of new remote workers? To install teleconferencing for most of them? Could you provision a flood of new users across the country over a few months?

Will you be able to replace a teleworker’s laptop or desktop within 4 hours? Eight hours? Whether she’s in Texas or Saskatoon?

Will you be able to manage hundreds of individual remote back-ups? Will you be able to restore that one critical file for the guy in Winnipeg who’s on a flaky dial-up service from a job site?

In short, your telecommuting, mobile worker, remote access problems may well become more demanding than ever, and your role in the company will be more critical than ever to the corporation’s success – and all on a reduced budget.

Things will, indeed, never be the same again.

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (US). He is at