It was only by chance I learned that Gaylen Duncan, a long-time champion of the Canadian IT industry, had died recently. A notice appeared on the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) site, where he had been president in the late 80s. Although it’s been a couple of years since we spoke, seeing his name made me realize how much I miss his presence as a spokesperson for technology professionals across this country.
Although he played a number of roles at CIPS, I knew Gaylen through his eight-year tenure with the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). He was the person we turned to when we needed to get the pulse of the vendor community, and in some cases the customer community as well. He held strong opinions and was eager to share them, which is invaluable in an industry that often favours more polite exchanges. As far back as 2000, when the world was giddy with the prospects of the dot-com revolution, he and ITAC put out a warning about cybercrime, which was directed at a G-8 security conference being held in Paris.
“We need to make haste . . . if you’re going to fight Internet crime, you’re going to have to move in Internet time,” he said. “We can’t hope to address the crimes of cyberspace at the leisurely pace set for most international negotiations.” Unfortunately, I don’t think enough government took heed of his call. Gaylen was also an outspoken critic of Canada’s innovation strategies, the need for more skilled employees and overall productivity challenges. Such advocacy is a difficult job, but he had the authority, the energy and the commitment to show true leadership for his members and colleagues.
It occurs to me now that Gaylen bore witness to a unique period in the technology sector – a spectacular rise in the valuation of high-tech companies and the subsequent drop in IT spending. He saw the biggest acquisition in the industry’s history, between HP and Compaq, and the rise of major new vendors such as Google and Salesforce.com. Wireless took off, and utility computing slowly started to emerge. His career spanned a dramatic series of changes. His gradual move away from the limelight coincided with the beginnings of Web 2.0 and the blurring of consumer and commercial technologies. No wonder, as this era was beginning, his departure seemed like another had ended.
When Gaylen stepped down from ITAC in 2003, I wondered what on Earth the association would do without him. They must have wondered the same thing: after a hiccup period with former Oracle Canada chief Bill Bergan at the helm, ITAC eventually found an able successor in Bernard Courtois. Gaylen said he would, like many CIOs and senior technology professionals, move back into consulting. His firm had no Web site that I knew of, but it had a great name, Second Step. He knew better than most that it’s easy to take the first step. Making progress means having the wherewithal to keep on moving.