Archive for the ‘IT Cost’ Category

IT Risk, Security and Money

June 19, 2008

I read an extraordinarily good post this week by Bruce Schneier on how to sell security.  Or perhaps more accurately: what thought process IT security buyers go through when deciding to purchase (or not).

I’ve had the luxury in my time of having ultimate responsibility for selling content security (anti virus/spam) products, database security products and now network access security products.

I have observed first hand the “cost of insurance vs. probability of negative outcome” calculus.  No one questions money invested in Antivirus solutions because everyone knows that the probability of a negative outcome without AV is a virtual certainty.  Same with SPAM.  They might wish for more effective insurance for the money.  They might question whether they need yet-another-layer to really solve the problem – I remember arguing that gateway scanning was important and getting almost no uptake until the Melissa virus came out and demonstrated that the next generation of viruses were going to be transmitted by email, not by floppy disk.  But at least a basic level of insurance is a given.

When selling database security solutions in the earliest days of that technology I saw the opposite calculus.  IT’s almost idealistic belief in the impenetrability of the applications they had developed to front-end their databases.  In those cases our best sales tactic was to ask if it was OK if we tried to perform a SQL injection or cross-site script in a lab environment just to “test our tools”.  We could routinely demonstrate that applications were easily penetrated.  Suddenly database security solutions jumped up the priority list a few notches in organizations with a lot to lose.

The Societe-Generale “situation” vaulted insider security into the collective security consciousness.  We’re still working out the risk vs. cost-of-insurance calculation.

But for the most part, as a life-long security solution purveyor I have found that every discussion becomes a risk vs. cost discussion.  And when the risk we’re addressing becomes the next most painful one on the list we will get a serious hearing.  That’s why good sales people learn very quickly to look for “compelling events” or to simply ask, “where does solving this problem rank on your current priority list”.  If your prospect cannot demonstrate that it’s under broader (than just themselves) organizational consideration somewhere in the top 5 (or perhaps 10 if it’s a larger organization) prepare yourself for a long sales cycle.

Now security is starting to become somewhat synonymous with compliance.  And that has given us the idea that if we just say our security product solves a SarbOx problem the budget will be instantly available.  But go to RSA and walk the floor and you will very quickly realize that when 1,000 vendors proclaim that they are solving the compliance problem in subtly different ways, a prospective customer could not be blamed for putting the clutch in for a bit while sorting out what they really need; no matter how dire we paint the consequences of inaction.

I have no end-world-hunger solutions here but I will say that I’m gravitating toward at least one small solution.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  Tag this: “Security is not Compliance”.  And trying to solve compliance problems with a security solution is likely to be kind of like trying to reduce the cost of oil by invading Venezuela (now this post will show up on the NSA radar screen) – there has to be a more cost effective way.  I’m leaning toward this Compliance or Auditing as a Service (CaaS or AaaS).  And in developing a go-to-market model around this I’m starting to think that many things in IT could benefit from at least someone thinking about the problem from an “As a Service” perspective.  The business model might not be there in all cases.  And politics within IT might present too great a barrier in others.  But when you start thinking about all IT problems the way Google and Amazon are likely thinking about them, perhaps we might find ways to offer more security capabilities as a utility.

Which just might make the cost of insurance negligible enough to make good security a no-brainer deal.


Compliance, Identity and the SME

February 1, 2008

Matt Flynn brought this article to my attention. At the surface it covers an important topic. Typically software vendors get stars in their eyes over Fortune 1000 size clients while the vast majority of enterprises are not able to consume solutions designed for the “biggies”. So, interesting topic. But I found the premise a bit disingenuous. Particularly the line of logic expressed here by one vendor (condensed with names excised)….

“Most small to midsized enterprises have far fewer IT professionals on staff to manage the overall IT infrastructure, making the user access management issue more critical than their large counterparts,” says (XYZ), senior vice president of (Vendor).

Source: Processor Editorial Article – Automate Role Management & Identity Compliance

So far, so good. Can’t argue with that. Continue please…..

(Senor XYZ) recommends that companies seek out vendors that [also]……..have a strong consulting services capability with an implementation and management methodology that has been used successfully in the field at several different types of organizations.

Now, we’re off the reservation a bit. Having been an IT guy in a small organization (~700 users) in my very distant past I will say that if a vendor ever said, “you should buy my solution because I have good consulting services” all kinds of alarms would start going off.

My immediate response would have been, “if this solution requires vendor expertise to get it to work for me then it’s not designed for an SME like me.”

I actually think Europe is generally more forward thinking than the US enterprise in this regard. Generally, in EMEA, a key test of a product for a prospective buyer is if they can run their own Proof of Concept; No vendor Sales Engineers or consultants allowed. If the vendor insists that only one of their sale engineers or consultants can get the product working right – well, Failure Condition #1.

Admittedly most SME’s would love to get that kind of attention from any ISV. But most also know that the attention is fleeting. And when the next version of the product is released or when the use environment changes and the vendor’s solution needs to be reconfigured – good luck getting that level of attention again.

That’s not to say that an SME wouldn’t be well advised to pay a local integrator or reseller to deploy a solution for them. That’s a judicious use of resources. But any time you have to rely on the vendor to get it to work right…..that’s just an extended bout of heart-burn waiting to happen. Maybe Big Money Center Bank can invest that kind of cash resources and mindshare in a solution on an ongoing basis. But Regional Community Bank With Ten Branches probably can’t.  Or shouldn’t.