Wednesday, 28 October 2009

BCS South West

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event organised by the BCS South West (but forgot to post this write up!) – it was a presentation entitled “Towards Onlince Safety” given by Ken Corish, an Education Advisor. Although primarily intended for parents of school children, I felt it had a lot to offer those of us working in other areas such Commerce or Industry, and thought that many of the points made by Ken were highly relevant.

The presentation notes can be downloded from the BCS website: (Towards Online Safety). These give a really good overview of the current situation and how the issues are being tackled. However, watch out for a couple of the pages as they contain some really bad language – just bear in mind that the screenshots are of real pages created by children on social networking sites and you might be a bit surprised.

In addition there were a couple of short videos shown that were created by CEOP as part of the process of educating young people about the potential problems – these have been shown in many schoools and I would suggest that if you are a parent, you might want to see these for yourself. They can be downloaded from: (Where’s Klaus?) (Think U Know: Girls) (Think U Know: Tom’s story) (Think before you post) (Once posted, you lose it.)

Ken made the point that many adults don’t understand some of these issues, and so how can we expect children to. However, it’s also clear that many adults know little about online safelty or think that it is someone else’s responsibility. Whatever your view, it is important that the message does actually get around to everyone.

The Internet can be a great place – there is a lot of really good information available, you can achieve a lot and make great friends particularly if you are reasonably savvy. But it has its darker side and sadly, there are some really nasty people out there. However, that reflects real life and we should make sure that the more vulnerable people (and not just the youngsters) are properly educated to make sure that they stay safe.

I don’t know what I want – but I want it now!

Anyone that has had young children or has worked with them will know the feeling. Children can’t articulate what it is they want, and because the adults around them don’t understand them, they don’t get what it is they think they want (and often if they do get it, it turns out not to be what they really do want!).

Sadly this is often the case with many business people as well. They don’t understand the technical side of technology, and can’t use the right terminology to explain what they need (and often don’t actually know what it is they want). This can cause enormous frustrations on both sides – IT people are expected to be mind readers and business people are surprised that their simple requests seem to be so hard to fulfill.

We’ve had an example of this just recently – Sales wanted a report that would show some sales figures. However, they assumed that it was just a case of “output sales figures”. When it was then identified that there are a large number of fields in the database that hold different figures showing different things, they simply couldn’t understand this. As a result, the report produced is meaningless because it produces the wrong values for what they need. After several rewrites, it still doesn’t give what they want, and we appear to be nowhere near getting a satisfactory output.

Another issue has been some data that was used in a system that is not part of our remit to look after. That system has failed and they cannot get access. We’ve taken on the challenge of recovering the data, and we were getting phone calls every hour to ask how we were getting on. Fortunately, we have found a way, but it is irritating to have to keep explaining that the interruptions are delaying the process and as we are not psychic, we don’t know how long the process will take.

This is not a new problem, nor is it just confined to specific areas of the business. I’m sure that everyone has had to explain to senior managers that just because they have one copy of Office 97, they can’t install it on every single PC. Similarly, they are very keen to block access to web sites that they think are inappropriate for work, but it then turns out that they were the ones going to those sites!

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about future developments within IT; a lot of this focuses on the development of cloud computing. I’m not entirely convinced that it is the best way forward for everyone, although I can see some major advantages in certain circumstances. However, the problem is that some of those concerns are of a technical nature – the business people don’t understand the potential problems, and therefore can’t see the risks involved.

The problem is of course that many of the individuals concerned simply don’t want to learn the technical side of things – it then falls to the more technically minded to try to educate them in an appropriate way so that they can appreciate the problem. However, to do that, we have to be able to understand what they need so that we can provide the correct response, and in a way that they will appreciate the message. Basically, we need all IT staff to develop a certain level of business acumen (or to enhance their parenting skills!)

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Sad, The Mad and The Bad.

A while ago, I was asked to take part in the Microsoft Technet Community Council. We had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was really positive – from comments made on the day, I think that Microsoft are serious about listening to people and taking their views on board.

Whilst I was at the meeting, I met several of the Technet staff, including James O’Neill – I’ve followed some of the stuff that he has done in the past, and it was really good to see the person behind the writing, so to speak. He’s really driven by his passion for technology and has written eloquently on several topics which I have found of real value. Catch it here at:

So I was saddened to read his latest piece - it turns out that he has been the victim of a theft, and has lost many treasured items that were in his laptop bag. No top of the range gizmos, but none the less, things that mean a lot to him. His blog shows the anger and frustration he feels – it’s a terrible thing to become a victim and although several other people have offered their condolences, I know that he will still feel the pain of the loss.

Many people have their lives in the mobiles or on their laptops – contact details, names, addresses, numbers. Many others keep other ID details and some even keep credit card or other bank information in their devices. Losing the device is bad enough, but then these people are unable to run their normal lives until they can replace the missing information. And if that information falls into the hands of bad guys, then they really have major problems.

People are generally trusting; we assume that other people will behave in a way that is similar to the way that we ourselves would behave. It’s a terrible blow when we realise that some people are not as trustworthy as we would like. It’s even worse when the people concerned are people that we know or trust. In this case, it was a public event organised by Microsoft for technology specialists - in other words, probably one of our own.

For many years, I worked as a manager for a number of the bigger UK retailers, some of whom are still around, a couple long gone. At the start of my training, I attended a security session – the trainer was the company CSO, a former senior officer with the Metropolitan Police. His first words to our groups of trainees were, “There are only 3 types of people in the world; the Sad, the Mad and the Bad. Everyone falls into one of these 3 categories – and that includes all of you”.

His cynicism was the result of many years dealing with the public – no doubt, he had heard every excuse, every sob story, met people that had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and met many, many people that were just no damn good. But everyone? And he then made the statement that we lost more through staff theft, than through pilfering by customers. I argued with him, but to no avail; and his response was that one day I would understand. And I hate to admit it it, but yes he was 100% correct.