June 29, 2006

Congress and Its Amazing Ideas

By Susan Dietz

Protecting our children is a noble and much-needed goal, and it’s true that the Internet is a breeding ground for predators.  Action should be taken to protect the most vulnerable among us from becoming victims.  However, the US Congress is allowing fear for our children to drive short-term behaviors and is tackling the problem of protecting our children with a slew of proposed measures ranging from the laughable to the downright scary.  Some ideas include labeling web sites with a rating system similar to the movie rating system, forcibly blocking off-color web sites, surveillance of American surfing activities, making certain hyperlinks illegal, recording which customer is assigned which IP address, dispatching “search and destroy” bots to disrupt peer-to-peer networks (and the computers which use them), restricting webcams, recording email correspondence and web sites visited for a period of 18 months, making search-engine providers responsible for offering questionable or illegal web sites with any search, letting government bureaucrats rate chat rooms, subpoenaing internet providers, and granting censorship rights to federal bureaucrats rather than judges.  

Constitution?  We don’t need no stinking Constitution!  Surveillance and monitoring without a warrant was, the last time I checked, still illegal in most circumstances (considering the Patriot Act), as is usurping the power of judges to shut down illegal web sites.  Destroying someone’s home computer with a “search and destroy” bot is also beyond the pale.  Despite reassurances to the contrary, it is almost a guarantee that innocent computers will be targeted.  Those things happen, and an “oops, sorry” from the government just wouldn’t be enough to repair the damage and disruption to someone’s life.  And as for bureaucrats monitoring chat rooms?  Exactly how long, then, until our tax forms come complete with emoticons?  Say we decide that we can start acting like Singapore, or worse, China.  Soon, all that is read is newspeak and the digital rewrites of history will be automatic and immediate.  It’s a rather Orwellian specter to contemplate, but one which the current administration seems to favor.  The Internet isn’t the only arena in which the message to the American public seems to be, “anything we don’t like, we will make illegal and also work behind the scenes to block you from it, just in case you decide to try and break the law.  Remember, we know who you are.”

Let’s set aside the issue of the legal and moral implications of some of the proposed measures.  Punitive and reactionary “solutions” are often the most expensive and least enforceable actions to take, and history is rife with examples.  The storage capacity alone needed for one of the ideas – keeping a record of email correspondence and websites visited for each person in the United States for a period of 18 months – is mind-boggling, let alone the personnel needed to monitor the monitoring.  Who would decide what is legal and what is deviant, anyway?  One person’s porn is another person’s art, and some images are not easily defined as belonging in either category.  On the technological side how, exactly, would some of these wished-for measures be enforced?  Some proposed technologies simply aren’t available, or aren’t available on the scale needed to enact the envisioned scenario despite the fertile imagination of some members of Congress.  Perhaps one day these technologies will be able to be implemented, but until then, put down the remote, back away from the Star Trek reruns, and think before acting.

June 13, 2006

The Channel and IT Solution Delivery to the SMB Market

Clay Ryder has made some very good points in his article “When You Are Too Small to Be a Named Account”. However this is a very complicated area as Joyce Becknell indicated in an article some months ago. It is one that it is very clear that the majority of IT vendors do not understand.

The first of the common mistakes made by vendors is to assume that the potential SME customer base forms a single entity. This is patently not th case on so many levels. Small and medium size companies, even many larger enterprises differ not just by their geographical base or vertical industry sector. The main differentiator concerns their purchasing habits and their abilities / capabilities to manage IT.

To reach these organisations the vast majority of vendors typically utilise a channel based sales approach. However once again it is certain that the organisations in the various channels, for there are many, differ enormously both in their ability and comfort to deliver some of the more complex IT solutions being targeted at SMB customers.

The one thing that is true of almost all channel based organisations is that they do not see it as their role to “build” new markets and to “educate” the potential user base on the business benefits of the solutions becoming available. The majority of all IT channel organisations are in the product / service delivery business. Unfortunately a number of the major IT solution suppliers miss this important point which may result in poor, or at least slow, adoption of new IT solutions

Meeting Centeris – Discussions on the Mid-market

I had the opportunity to have a phone briefing with Barry Crist, the CEO of Centeris today.  They’re a small company, based in the US Pacific Northwest, who’s just starting to expand into Europe.  They’ve got a product, Likewise that helps you manage Linux servers in a Windows environment.  We had a good conversation about life, the universe and everything, as Centeris is hanging out in Germany this month – the European epicenter of all things Linux – so we got introduced and I discovered an company I wanted to share with you.

This is a good company to watch.  It’s founded by a bunch of ex-Microsofties. What a great concept – Microsoft-minded people who want to work with Linux rather than thinking it should be obliterated.  There is far too much polemic about Windows versus Linux in the greater IT community which is a waste of energy.  Both platforms are going to continue to thrive and have their purposes in life. There are areas of overlap where sales teams will slog it out, but the decision to use Windows or Linux need not be binary.  What is really helpful to end users is tools that help them make the systems integrate.

This got us talking about the mid-market.  One of the ongoing issues for mid-market companies is that they don’t have the leisure of hiring IT specialists – they tend to hire good generalists who can handle a bit of everything.  That means they need to find tools that are cost-effective, quick and easy to install and targeted toward them.  Barry feels very strongly about the needs of this market and we commiserated on the challenges this market faces.  We didn’t have enough time to solve the world’s problems, but they’re on our radar screen now and we welcome them to Europe.

June 07, 2006

IT and User Behaviour

Should IT administrators, IT Managers and CIOs be legally responsible for monitoring the use of IT systems by users? More especially should they be held to account for users not following company standards and national laws governing the use of keyboards, mice etc. There have been many cases in Europe whereby users have taken their employers to court over many things. Some of these are more than justifiable where organisations flout the laws. However, occasionally a case arises where a user sues their employer because they, for instance, used their PC for many hours a day without a break. Now if the employer is forcing this work pattern to take place they should be sued but if the user does so without any coercion, who should take responsibility?

The company has a duty to ensure that its staff work in accordance with the law and should take steps beyond this to educate its employees on best practice working conditions. However the question then arises should the employer then arrange to monitor the work pattern of individuals to point out when they are not following guidelines? Or is user privacy of greater importance?