Discovering That Simple IT is Good IT

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2005-05-04 Print this article Print

It's nearly half a year since a tsunami reduced the coasts of 11 countries abutting the Indian Ocean to rubble. Roads, bridges and houses still need to be rebuilt. Some relief workers think military and humanitarian organizations could use cheap, portable

They talked through the changes on Skype, a service that allows calls to be made around the globe to other Skype users. All he needed was a headset and some voice-over-Internet Protocol software on his laptop.

When Kirkpatrick and Rasmussen were finished with their redesign session, they had stripped away everything that was nonessential, trimming the table of contents that greets users from 28 links to five major categories—Discussion, Contacts, News, Files and Toolbox—with subheadings for the specific tools created for logistics support and field assessments.

By eliminating clutter, they found room for some explanatory text at the top of the page about how to use the member directory and online collaboration features. The basic feature that allowed Rasmussen to wow his WFP friends when he first arrived in Jakarta—the ability to connect people to each other—was the most important of all, they decided.

Before departing for Banda Aceh the next day, Rasmussen took the revision back to the U.N. logistics specialist he had tried to train and asked him to take another look. After that, it did get some operational use. But it was late.

In retrospect, he wishes he could have gone to Indonesia sooner, perhaps allowing him to introduce Strong Angel-style capabilities while the mission was still being organized.

Snoad, the U.N. Joint Logistics Centre CIO, confirms that Rasmussen's Groove tools were used in the tsunami response, "although not to anything like their proper potential."

Engle says he thinks Groove-like sharing makes most sense as a supplemental tool in an emergency, for occasionally connected users, rather than as the main way to maintain "situational awareness" during a massive humanitarian response. His laptop, for instance, kept crashing when he tried to access the tsunami response workspace because Rasmussen had packed too much into it, he says.

Whatever the technology, the right time to introduce such capabilities is during the planning for future emergencies, Snoad says. The point is "getting the international community to be more organized and professional, not just about the tools but the approaches as well—and recognizing that it matters."

Next page: Real Problems Tougher Than Planners Imagined

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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