As I See It: Disruption
December 11, 2017 Victor Rozek
Thirty years ago I read something that stayed with me all these years because it delivered the slap of sobering truth. I read it in an environmental journal, and I regret the lack of attribution, but the quote went something like this: “A time will come when environmental degradation will simply continue, with or without our participation.”
That prospect had never occurred to me. I had assumed there would always be time to turn things around. That sooner or later people would come to understand the severity of the damage being done to the Earth, and would chart a more rational course. I shared in the mass delusion that we have an infinite number of chances to get it right. But the author argued that the window for corrective action was closing; that there was a tipping point beyond which things could no longer be walked back. Once that point is reached, the ecosystems that sustain life will simply continue to unravel.
Since remarkably little has been done in the intervening 30 years, we may have already passed that point. What small steps have been implemented (recycling, marginally improved mileage standards) are more than offset by over-population, continuing resource gluttony, and the massive polluting prowess of carbon-based industrialization.
I recalled the above quote as I pondered what to write about at year-end. Most years I pen predictive articles about the prospects for the industry and IT professionals. But after the events of this past year, it occurred to me that IT operations in some of the most populated parts of the country will suffer at least a single prolonged incident of disruption.
Disruptions will come from one – or a combination – of three sources. The most destructive being weather. Consider the following: Globally, there have been 11,000 weather-related deaths between 2012 and 2016. In the United States, for the first time since records were kept, three Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in 2017. They brought record destruction with them.
Hurricane Harvey damaged 203,000 homes, of which 12,700 were destroyed. It dumped a record 60 inches of rainfall near Nederland, Texas. Houston, the fourth-largest metro area in the U.S. got nearly 50 inches of rain –which equates to approximately 15 trillion gallons of water. This single weather event resulted in $200 billion in damage.
Hurricane Irma had maximum winds of 185 mph sustained for a record 37 hours. It was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Hurricane Nate has the distinction of being the fastest-moving storm travelling at 28 mph. While Hurricane Ophelia set a record for moving farthest East.
Hurricane Maria flattened Puerto Rico and Americans there are still struggling with restoring basic services.
In all, there were 18 named weather systems. It could have been worse, and will likely get worse. The globe has been predictably warming year after year, and not even the most ardent climate-change deniers believe these conditions will improve any time soon.
The impact on IT, although not specifically recorded, can be surmised. Businesses shuttered, owners and employees trying to salvage what’s left of their lives, homeless customers, supply routes disrupted by flooding, power lines down. In a word: Disruption.
The second likely source of IT disruption, particularly for small businesses, is the impending death of net neutrality. Although less visible and dramatic than destructive weather, monetizing the Internet will impact the bottom line because the disruption will originate on the user end. One of the few advantages small, struggling companies have over established corporations is that they can appear large and successful on the Internet. But that assumes prospective customers will be able to find and access their web sites. The introduction of gatekeepers and pay-for-play Internet usage is bound to delimit what is easily accessible and who is granted preferential access.
Terminating neutrality is a solution in search of a problem, as evidenced by the fact the all of the dire predictions made by anti-neutrality FCC chairman Ajit Pai a few years ago never materialized. Among his apocalyptic predictions were that net neutrality would be challenged and struck down by the courts, and that network architecture and design would no longer be the purview of engineers but will be controlled by government bureaucrats and attorneys. That none of those things happened did not deter Pai from continuing his opposition to neutrality.
The mere fact that IT industry giants are nearly unanimously against gutting neutrality suggests that the motivation behind the current push is neither technical nor legal. As always, money is the driving force, and although the FCC is purportedly an independent agency, it’s hardly immune from the interests of our purchasable Congress.
There also appears to be a secondary motivation behind the desire to destroy net neutrality: The unholy fixation with undoing everything the former president accomplished or championed – net neutrality being one.
The final disruptor, which started as a challenge for bright kids with too much time on their hands, has morphed into an international digital version of the Cold War: Hacking.
Here’s a partial list compiled by Fortune of companies that have been hacked in the past few years, and the number of people potentially affected:
- Experian, the credit rating company – 15 million people.
- Premera Blue Cross – 11 million people.
- Care First Blue Cross – 1.1 million people.
- Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield – 10 million people.
- Anthem, a healthcare company – 80 million people.
- UCLA Health Systems – 4.5 million people.
- Home Depot – 53 million people.
- JP Morgan – 83 million people.
- Ebay – 145 million people.
- Target – 110 million people.
- Uber – 57 million people.
And then there’s Ashley Madison, a confidential dating site for married people seeking to have affairs. Hackers posted the personal information of 32 million of their clients online.
All of these companies experienced huge disruptions and, in many cases, huge payouts when disgruntled patients and customers sued. 2018 promises more of the same.
The world appears to be getting more fractious and fractured. For IT professionals, that suggests an invitation to keep your head down, your data safe, and to plan for contingencies. As Bette Davis is so often famously misquoted: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.