Bernie Schumacher remembers the days before cell phones, laptops and handhelds enabled regular contact with the office even while vacationing. In fact, he was on a cruise during the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant meltdown in 1979, completely unaware of the crisis until his ship docked.
Back then, there was no guilt about being out of touch while away. Not so anymore.
"With the technology today, you do have that feeling of responsibility" to check in while on vacation, says Schumacher, global CIO for Novartis. "But if you plan it right and have enough discipline, you can check [messages] very briefly, take that burden off you and have the rest of the day to have a good time."
For many IT leaders, the idea of vacation as a getaway is a thing of the past. Today's CIOs tend to take their technology along with them so they can stay connected to the office. The technology of choice? Smart phones. Most agree that they need to have their BlackBerries and Treos in tow, but the need to be connected -- and the degree of connectivity -- is as much about the individual as it is about the work.
"Knowing I have the technology gives me the comfort that if something happens while I'm gone, I can get involved or I can ignore it if I so choose," says Jo Hoppe, CIO at Pegasystems-based software company.
Hoppe took a family trip to New Hampshire for a week in July and is planning another one this month. The vacation house has a phone but no answering machine and no Internet access. But Hoppe says she can get coverage for her BlackBerry there.
All the same, Hoppe doesn't want to spend her time in the woods sorting through e-mails. So when she's vacationing, she sets up an automatic message informing e-mailers that she'll be out of the office and won't have access to e-mail. It's a fib, because Hoppe admits she checks e-mails once a day, "when we're not doing something fun -- just to make sure there's nothing urgent in there."
Hoppe's approach is common. Though it might seem that touching base with the office while away would be stressful, some say it actually helps them relax.
"The BlackBerry allows me to go on vacation," says Joseph D. (Jody) Giles, CIO at Under Armour, an athletic apparel company. For instance, when his son recently made the Little League all-star team, "the BlackBerry allowed me to go to the game and still deal with some real-time issues we had in the office," he says.
Giles, his wife and their two children are planning a five-day trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks this summer and a two-week visit to China and Hong Kong sometime this year. He'll take his BlackBerry to the beach, where he expects to check messages twice a day. He doesn't intend to take it to Asia, however.
Even though he'll check in while on the Outer Banks, Giles plans to limit business interactions to high priorities.
But maintaining limits is sometimes easier said than done. Giles acknowledges that he's sometimes tempted to check in when there's really no need to. Resisting that urge takes some self-discipline, he says. "I ask, 'Do I really need to go check my BlackBerry again, or is it more important to throw the Frisbee with my kids?'" Giles says. "Both are priorities, and technology -- the BlackBerry, specifically -- allows me to keep those things in balance.
"But all things in moderation," he adds. "There's a fine line between it being a tool and being a 'CrackBerry.' We've all seen those addicts."