Four Ways to Stay Ahead in 05

IT leaders can find advantages in security, e-mail systems and simple enterprise resource planning. They can also learn by studying the business of distributing music.

Will Linux supplant Unix and Windows? Will you replace your servers with blades? What about changing the corporate browser from Internet Explorer to Firefox? All those are legitimate corporate technology questions as the year nears its end. However, those questions were also legitimate at the end of last year. Here are four IT issues that were, at most, only distant rumbles at the end of last year but are now coming to the forefront as 2005 nears.

Security. Say what? Of course, security was a big topic at this time last year, but the latest rounds of new security issues can make one nostalgic for the bugs and viruses of the past. In fact, Id argue that the latest rounds of phishing attacks, if not thwarted, have the potential for stopping the growth of e-commerce dead in its tracks. The plaintive and obvious scams of the past involving supposed millions of dollars in unclaimed cash are quickly being replaced by false requests for bank, taxpayer and insurance information that have the exact look and feel of the companies with which you do business. Even the trusted URL has become suspect as hackers hijack open ports on business sites to lure customers into giving up account numbers and passwords.

So phishing is a big problem, but what is the answer? Im not sure, but a three-tier level of user authentication (something you know, such as a password; something you have, such as an ATM card; and something unique to you, such as a fingerprint or iris pattern) is not only good for users, its also good for companies. After-hours conversations with tech-security and e-commerce execs show that stopping phishing has moved as a security priority from the backwater to center stage.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about phishing scammers taking advantage of technology designed to thwart them.

E-mail. In one of those unintended consequences of technology development, the e-mail race for consumers among Microsoft, Google and Yahoo is ready to touch off another round of application outsourcing.

If you could get 2GB of storage, virus scanning, user administration and universal Web access to corporate e-mail within your corporate domain for $1 per user per month, why wouldnt you finally offload your e-mail? You would, if you run a small or midsize business where e-mail is not entwined with your other business applications. You wouldnt, unless the provider hosting your e-mail can also host, or at least make easy, hooks into your other business applications.

But even those applications that once seemed out of reach to outsourcing are due to come closer to the corporate world as the efforts of companies such as, NetSuite and 1&1 Internet convince corporate execs that applications by subscription makes sense. The advent of robust e-mail from the likes of Google and Yahoo, combined with the growth of outsourced and hosted applications, is creating a strong corporate-level alternative to custom software running in your server room.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about MSNs recent offer of increased e-mail storage.

Music. What does music have to do with corporate computing? Companies spend a lot of time and money trying to come up with ways to create and distribute information, get paid for what they are distributing and provide devices that display that information. That sounds a lot like the music industry. The Apple iPod is being challenged by companies such as Creative Technology, which is providing players with substantial capacity and simple controls. The chore of trying to create formats that allow easy music distribution but still retain rights and payment capabilities is taxing the engineering talents of the current digital generation. The ability to move music around while maintaining a revenue stream holds a lot of lessons for the corporate world.

Simple ERP. As consumer e-mail from Google and music from Apple are creating new corporate directions, so are the business snapshots provided by Amazon and eBay for their sellers creating a new way of viewing ERP. Stats on buyer Opinions, inventory and financial data are leading to a new way for execs to view the health of their companies. The next step in the evolution of the corporate portal is taking place at Amazon and eBay today.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

/zimages/3/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.