The real security challenge

The real security challenge

This recognition of the real security challenge was spectacularly highlighted recently by the incompetence of the UK government which managed to lose the contact and bank account details of 25 million recipients of child benefits. These were copied and unencrypted on to two CDs and sent through the internal mail from whence they disappeared.

Given the sensitivity of this information, especially if it fell into the hands of fraudsters, the lack of thought applied to securing the data was appalling. The government denied that the data was lost due to a systemic failure and instead blamed a junior official for not following proper procedures. Yet it was also clear that these actions revealed a culture where the junior official saw nothing untoward in copying and distributing such sensitive information. In a nutshell, the episode demonstrated that the latest computer virus might disrupt proceedings in the short term. However, misplacing sensitive client data will probably cost you significant business in the long term.

During 2007, this issue of data security attracted the attention of a diverse group of IT players. The traditional security providers are appreciating that their product portfolios need to include applications that can restrict access to important data. Then the storage suppliers are realizing that addressing these issues also requires businesses to think more carefully about how and where they file information electronically. Finally, the enterprise content management providers are beginning to understand that security of content is as important an issue as availability of that content.

Tip: Watch the iPhone

The most important technology that will emerge in 2008 will arguably be the iPhone. This prediction is based on my belief that the Apple product marks something different. It has the capability to change these phones from being expensive niche products to being the pre-eminent mobile phone technology.

Users are already finding themselves cluttered with mobile functionality. Obviously, they have to carry their cell phone. In addition, no self-respecting business executive today feels complete without the email capability of the Blackberry. Added to this is the need for many to carry a laptop. PDAs are still popular with some. Then, outside the corporate space, a lot of people find it beneficial to carry a digital camera while the iPod has managed to transcend the Generation X and Y consumer and gain a strong hold among the Baby Boomers. In particular, many such users are appreciating the benefits of a device that not only provides a portable music collection but also allows them the opportunity to play podcasts of training material or business discussions at their convenience. Moreover, the iPod's ability to hook up to most car stereo systems also adds significantly to its portability.

A benchmark setter

There are two reasons why the iPhone will set the benchmark. Firstly, Apple has remembered that first and foremost the iPhone must be an easy-to-use mobile phone. After all, this is the primary need and too many smartphones failed largely because they are a cumbersome cell phone. Secondly, I think the iPod capability will be a real winner. This is a core competency of Apple whose experience has led to a solution that reflects an increasing corporate understanding of consumer needs in this space.

In many ways I believe the iPod functionality could well prove to be Apple's 'gotcha' in the corporate cell phone sector. Many CIOs are unlikely to stand in the way of an executive who expresses a desire for an iphone, especially if a business case can be made that it will eliminate costs associated with other devices like Blackberry's and laptops. As long as the iphone is dependable and priced correctly, the iPod functionality could capture the attention of senior executives. This may well seem like the tail is wagging the dog. However, I always remember Tom Hopkins' advice that, above all, selling is about stimulating emotions. I have no doubt that the iPod functionality of the iphone will have a certain prestige that other suppliers may find difficult to emulate.

Nevertheless, I think I should put some qualifiers on this iphone prediction. Firstly, I suspect we are looking at a trend that will probably reach its zenith in about five years. In these cost conscious times, organizations are unlikely to drop what they have to get an iphone, especially since it is still a somewhat fledgling technology. However, over time the product will mature, corporate mobile plans will come up for replacement and the iphone will then become part of those deliberations. I believe that steadily a momentum will be created that will see the iphone become the cell phone of corporate choice.

Significant CIO repercussions

This will have a number of significant potential repercussions for CIOs. They may come to consider that podcasts are the best delivery method for IT training. It may also lead to deliberations about whether some mobile staff can replace their laptops and Blackberry's with iPhones. If so there will be implications both on security and on a need to transfer files between iPhones and the corporate network. In particular, I would expect the battery life of portable devices will become an important component in these considerations. In this regard the early evidence is that Apple needs to do much more with the iPhone.

I suppose I will know how this prognosis is tracking when I come to review things in January 2009. One of the great joys about working in ICT is how you can be surprised by new developments. Great plans and forecasts can be hijacked by the unexpected. Many CIOs may find this frustrating. However, it is these new developments that keep the ICT industry bubbling. One thing you know about the IT industry is that there is never a dull moment.

Peter Hind is a consultant with years of experience in the IT industry.

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