Before the Deluge, Prepare

Opinion: The next flood of technology innovation could swamp the United States.

Rain. Lots of rain. More than a foot of rain. That was the story last week here in Boston. Once the rainfall passed the foot mark and the roads were washed out and closed, there was ample opportunity for many of us to think about technology, past tech bubbles and preparedness as we listened to the sounds of our basements filling with water.

The Internet provided a lot more news about the rising rivers and streams than we had available during the last big flood in my neck of the woods, Merrimack Valley, in 1936.

I went to the Geological Survey site to check the real-time water level of the Shawsheen River that runs about a half-mile from my house. The river gauge hit about 9 feet (2 feet above flood level) on May 15.

Was that information more valuable than some farmer in 1936 figuring it was time to get out when the ducks started heading for dry land? Maybe. But while the Internet does make it a lot easier to stay home and skip the traffic foundering on flooded roads, Im not sure a wealth of detailed information provides a wealth of knowledge.

The same probably holds true for other information-gathering activities. Legal and constitutional issues aside, I doubt that collecting all the records of every phone call made in the United States would provide the knowledge equal to a human-directed intelligent focus on the individuals most under suspicion.

The folly of not dealing with the debris of an earlier technological boom was also in evidence as the rain continued to fall. Merrimack Valley, and especially the old mill towns of Lowell and Lawrence, was once the home of the New England textile industry.

In a bit of property rights disdain that would make even the most confirmed digital music thief blush, the New England textile business grew by stealing the technology from England. In any case, the huge mills, dams and canals that were built to power the industry still remain, although in a much-decayed condition.

Without the locks, sluiceways and natural riverbed being maintained, those old technology hulks provide ready pathways for flooding.

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There was lots of money to build the textile infrastructure and none available to remove it once the economic engines sputtered. Things havent changed that much as China and India invest in technology education and infrastructure while leaving the United States unprepared for the next flood of technology innovation.

The debris of outdated curriculums, underfunded educational and retraining programs, and outdated networks is every bit as dangerous as that dam built in 1845 and untended ever since.

Which gets me to one brief lesson in preparedness. Lets say you had one decent-size sump pump in the basement that could handle most any rainstorm. And deciding not to be left at the mercy of just one pump, you kept a spare on a basement shelf. When would be a good time to test the second pump? On a nice sunny day or when you are standing in 6 inches of rising water in your basement? Right.

And when is a good time to test storage backups, server failover and data recovery from tape? When you really need it or on a nice sunny day? You get the picture. My advice is to have a few practice runs before the rain starts to fall.

And now for something completely different. If you are interested in understanding how you can make the right technology decisions to support your companys mergers and acquisitions strategy, weve got a conference for you.

Check out, or send me an e-mail for additional information. This invitation-only summit runs June 12-15 at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.

If you are involved in making sure your organization makes the correct technology decisions during acquisitions, mergers and divestitures, this conference will give you the guidance you need.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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