Beat the Clock

A new world order. Paul
Strassmann, director of Defense information early in this decade, has put the world on
notice that a threshold event in the history of computing took place Aug. 4.


On that day, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a 17-page document
interpreting its unprecedented year 2000 cost-reporting requirements for public companies,
most of which have disclosed little about such liabilities.


SEC will require fiduciary officers to sign and file quarterly disclosures about the
liabilities.


Strassmann, who teaches at the National Defense University and U.S. Military Academy at
West Point, said he sees the action as “a watershed event in its legal
implications.”


He views it as the beginning of a new chapter in government oversight.


In the same way that government extended its reach into toxic-waste pollution and
epidemics, it will begin to focus on information technology issues, Strassmann said.


History lesson. IT professionals,
accustomed to high self-regard as “the chosen of the next civilization,” may
find themselves subject to the same suspicion and scrutiny as financial operators of the
past, he said.


He said he sees the situation today as analogous to the 1930s, when failures in
financial markets moved Congress to create the Federal Trade Commission, SEC and other
regulatory bodies. The 1930s also gave rise to the auditing profession, which until then
had no legal basis, he said.


Strassmann said the SEC disclosure requirements are the opener for a whole raft of new
legislation that imposes constraints on information management practices.


IT professionals can expect their careers to be shaped by more regulatory interference,
particularly in the areas of security, standards, electronic commerce and certification of
software reliability, Strassmann said.


Feet to the fire. Strassmann predicted
that one likely consequence from year 2000 date code readiness will be legislation giving
chief information officers fiduciary responsibility for corporate information assets.


Without fiduciary responsibility, a chief financial officer is just a bookkeeper, he
said.


Similarly, a CIO without fiduciary responsibility is “a glorified chief technology
officer who once in a while passes on a microcomputer procurement,” Strassmann said.


The computing profession in America, he said, is reaching “the end of 50 years of
shantytown structures with everyone building his own well and privy.”


Strassmann said he has no regrets about the imminent demise of the free-wheeling, Wild
West era of IT, “which I enjoyed and which allowed me to prosper.”


—Florence Olsen
folsen@gcn.com  

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