Readers’ letters

Keeping up

With all due respect, it doesn’t take an Einstein to see the validity of Nicholas Carr’s argument [see report on the Harvard Business Review editor-at-large’s keynote address to Information Age‘s Effective IT Summit 2004, where he reiterated the view that IT has become a commodity that is no longer capable of delivering competitive edge].

By definition, the competitive edge afforded by any technology must lessen in inverse proportion to the number of its adopters.

What’s just as blindingly obvious, though, is if you don’t keep up with (certainly mainstream) technological advances, you lessen your competitive ability. If these technologies do actually deliver, and if your rival can produce 50 widgets an hour because of their new go-faster doodle-flip and you can only produce 45 for the same cost, then they’re going to beat you. So, rather than increasing your competitive advantage by using the latest IT wizardry, you decrease it (relative to your rivals) by NOT using it.

I’ve now spent 30 years at the pointy end of IT. I don’t formulate company strategies, re-engineer entire global business processes or design technical infrastructures for multinational corporations. I simply deliver working solutions that have benefited all the businesses I’ve ever worked for. I have also developed an uncanny knack for recognising pointless arguments. See above.

Steve Pauline
Senior business analyst, BI
Centura Foods Ltd

Same old mousetrap

Nicholas Carr elucidates very well something that has been bubbling in the back of my mind for a few years now [see ‘Keeping up’]. The fact is that IT has ceased to be innovative – we are just offering improvements and sticking plaster to the same old mousetrap that has been doing a similar job for over ten years.

Traditionally, IT profits have been led by new ‘must-have’ technologies that supposedly allow one to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, however in recent years there have been no new must-haves, whilst at the same time costs have continued to fall. Paradoxically while costs have fallen complexity has risen, which forms a supply demand relationship that makes it more difficult for vendors to be able to afford effective support for their products.

Carr’s point about competitive advantage is valid since as soon as one offers a new idea, it is quick and simple to copy, and quite often the hard work is in scoping the idea itself rather than building the delivery mechanism. In short my view is that the industry has matured to the point where most of us in the supply chain have become ‘high-class infrastructure suppliers’, selling to a well-educated and conversant clientele. That is not to say there is not room to help our clients deliver more cost effective IT and to manage it to a higher level so it is more reliable.

Ray Hill
Fordway Solutions Limited
Networking Excellence by Design

Global warning

Companies looking at global sourcing should not focus solely on an IT consultancy’s country of origin [see ‘Stateless IT’, Information Age, April 2004]. The most important factors to consider are a consultancy’s ability to offer high-quality, productive and flexible projects and contracts, and a thorough understanding of the client’s business.

To achieve this, the consultancy needs to have highly trained and skilled staff on-site in every market so that it can provide seamless service to its customers. It also needs to have development centres across the globe to ensure it can deliver from numerous sites and that the highest level of service is provided from the most appropriate location.

It may seem hackneyed, but in the current global economy, companies should be looking to work with global sourcing consultancies that are able to provide the best possible service, with the best skills available and at the most competitive price. Consultancies providing this are spurring the trend towards global sourcing as a strategic investment rather than simply a cost-cutting exercise.

The point is that the best global sourcing companies are able to offer flexible business practices that enable customers to operate more efficiently and produce more value. Then global sourcing becomes more than shifting tasks to lower cost resources; when optimised, it creates the opportunity for changes in business strategy, organisation, recruitment and training.

In short, companies that identify those competencies that can be outsourced for reasons of business strategy and competitive advantage will ultimately gain the greatest advantage from global sourcing.

AS Lakshminarayanan
UK/Ireland country manager
Tata Consultancy Services

False identity

Congratulations on a well-rounded article on the very current subject of biometrics (‘Identity crisis’, Information Age, March 2004).

But if I have one issue with the article, then it is that you did not identify the difference between identification and verification, and how identification is poorly served by biometrics alone. John Daugman [the Cambridge University professor and pioneer of iris recognition technology] spells this out in one of his excellent articles excellent articles: In short, identification refers to ‘who am I?’ while verification to ‘am I who I say that I am?’

John Daugman outlines very quickly that the likelihood of a false positive in a biometric test goes up in proportion to the number of people to be tested. For example, using a biometric device on an entrance gate to admit any one of 2,000 enrolled people, in which the biometric device has a performance of 99.9% correct individual rejection rate, then the likelihood of admitting an unenrolled person is 86%.

This has been born out in some of the tests in American airports on facial recognition, ie that it is much more likely that a false positive will occur as the number of ‘villains’ to be tested against increases.

Verification, on the other hand, where a biometric measurement is compared to a single enrolled ‘image’ held on a smart card (for example), is a one-to-one test and, like all two-factor tests, is very much stronger.

Which brings me on to the subject of national ID cards. My argument centres on the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails. It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by the hundreds of millions of honest people that would carry it. What matters is how the system might fail when used by someone intent on subverting that system : how it fails naturally, how it can be made to fail, and how failures might be exploited. As [renowned security consultant] Bruce Schneier says, “Everything I’ve learned about security over the last 20 years tells me that once it is put in place, a national ID card program will actually make us less secure.

Paul Rivers
Operations manager

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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