Why Nortel

In an age of e-mail, comments, wikis and forums, it’s kind of ashock when someone actually takes the time to call us by telephone.It’s even more surprising when they call to complain about a story thatmay or may not concern them personally.

The call in question was about Nortel, and in particular IT WorldCanada’s coverage of it. Why, the reader asked us, are we not more upin arms about the company’s demise, and why the company was not saved.Why, he wondered, is the mainstream media in Canada more focused onMichael Jackson’s death at 50 than the collapse of a Canadiantechnology icon that stood for some 114 years?

This isn’t something I’m prepared to dismiss easily, even though wepublished at least 4,000 words on the Nortel situation a week ago, launched our interactive timeline andblogged regularly about it. Without putting words in this particularreader’s mouth (I didn’t talk to him directly, but his feedback waspassed onto me), I think it hints at our attitude as an organizationtowards Nortel. Yes, we’re presenting the facts, and we’re trying tocover all the angles of interest to our communities, but perhaps wearen’t doing enough to mourn what Nortel meant to the Canadian ITindustry as a whole.

From a strictly business standpoint, our focus at the moment is onNortel’s enterprise customers, who are probably spending time right nowgoing over contingency plans and second-guessing their decisions not togo with Cisco, Avaya or some other provider of telecommunicationsequipment. But there’s more to this than a business story. There’s ahuman story about the thousands of people Nortel employed. Theseprofessionals, in some cases, moved in and out of the company to foundnew startups of their own, to become internal IT managers at corporateenterprises, or contributed to a host of non-IT industries.

Nearly everyone I spoke to about this story over the last week knowssomeone who once worked at Nortel, or is related to someone who onceworked at Nortel. Several people had stories to share about how thecompany’s misfortunes affected their friends and family’s personalfinances. Having seen the ups and downs of corporate restructuringseveral times in my career, I’m amazed at the Nortel staff who stayedon through one scandal or round of downsizing after another, stillcommitted to the technology roadmap and their clients’ success.

With Nortel as we know it probably coming to an end, there’s a sensethat we’ll never see a technology giant of this size in Canada again,and that includes Research In Motion. Though this may be true, Ibelieve in the talent pool of Canadian technology professionals whooccupied Nortel’s offices over the last century. Even if thecorporation which served as an organizing principle for that talentbase disappears, I believe the talent will find another home. Perhapsthe government could have done more to save it, but with GM already onits plate I question its ability to deal with all the governance andmanagerial issues.

Nortel is a part of Canadian history but that does not mean it isnow a part of our past. We at IT World Canada regret the job losses,the customer problems and the tainted image of Canada’s technologyreputation its ruin creates. We don’t want Nortel to rest in peace. Ifnothing else, we want it to live on in pieces.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shane Schick
Shane Schickhttp://shaneschick.com
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