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Hilary Backwell

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A new era of collaboration technology

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Hilary Backwell discusses the rise in collaboration technology, including social media, which in turn demands a new approach to web security.
 
 
 
To be successful, today’s business needs to strike a balance between cost-efficiencies, keeping a productive workforce motivated and ensuring that they are mindful of corporate and legislative compliance. However, the way that organisations interact, work and do business has taken on a collaborative nature which has to fit in with these success criteria.  
 
The catalyst for this collaboration has been the explosive adoption of interactive and real-time web-based technologies – from social networks and wikis through to blogs and web-hosted applications. As the popularity of these tools has grown, their value as essential ways of working is becoming apparent and is driving the collaborative environment that enterprises increasingly inhabit today. This sociological change is fuelled by technological developments but the end result is a change in our communications habits – the ways we work together and engage with everyone.
 
As all businesses recognise, it’s vital to adapt to survive, particularly when it comes to technology. Board-level thinking recognises the value of collaborative tools to connect organisations with global customers, suppliers and business partners, and that they will be necessary to survive this recession. 
 
According to recent research from Gartner, over a third of large enterprises will have deployed social software suites to all of their employees by 2012. However on the flip side, Gartner warned that barriers still exist for full-scale adoption of social software technologies, because many firms are unsure about the business benefits and fear losing control over their people and content.
 

A new era

 
So what are these fears founded on? Losing control of intellectual property or customer sensitive data? Falling employee productivity? New security threats or dangerous malware infiltrating an enterprise? Creating compliance concerns where social networking communications can’t be audited? All of these concerns are valid and are now being addressed by a new era of web security that focuses on enablement and confidently opening up to this always-on world of collaboration, while minimizing worries about data, people or communications being comprised.
 
Web security today is not about stopping and blocking but about enabling your employees and being content-aware. This combination means organisations can manage appropriate dissemination of information whatever the circumstances; so if an employee is online in a social network, then content is being inspected to ensure that what is leaving the company is appropriate, and not letting proprietary or confidential information out of the door.
 
With this policy-based, content-aware approach to security, an enterprise can improve its internal performance. According to a recent study, from the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne, people who do surf the internet for personal reasons at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.
 
Employee wellbeing and motivation are also by-products of enterprises being able to open up without compromising data. Organisations can allow staff the time to ‘live’ online (shop, bank, talk to friends) but in a way which will not adversely affect productivity.
 
For instance, a retail chain’s head office is situated in a remote location but it is keen to ensure that staff morale is high and people don’t feel stuck in the middle of nowhere at work. A content-aware policy-based solution will allow the right balance between staff going online to do their banking, shopping and talking to friends, and engaging with customers, colleagues and business partners.
 

Web security solutions

 
The global nature of business means that organisations need web and email security solutions which are going to be scalable across all their territories and enable them to alter policies due to cultural differences. Our own feedback highlights that there is a current trend for organisations to implement certain policies in one market, for example permitting free access to social networks while not allowing access in others.
 
This new era of web security signals a shift away from restricting a corporate environment to enabling people and companies to do better business. This not only takes into account the need to maintain the flow of content and communication – from web, email, and web mail – but also ensuring that internet-based threats, next-generation malware, spam, viruses, spyware, and unauthorised URLs are prevented while protecting sensitive content.
 
A proactive web security solution to suit this new era of openness will provide the ability to set differing levels of control via user-managed channels. For instance, setting different time controls on non-business related web surfing dependent on level of seniority or job type. Or setting exemptions to enable certain departments to do their jobs, for example, an insurance company blocks 24/7 access to social networks but overrides that for the fraud department so that they may monitor what sickness cover claimants are doing in their personal time.
 
Additional threats from the collaborative world also exist from the use of encrypted (HTTPS/SSL) web traffic. A proactive and content-aware security solution must be able to scan and monitor encrypted traffic just as easily as normal data exchanges and alerts for unacceptable behaviour.
 
Inadvertent threats are prevalent too. Web 2.0 collaborative tools combined with today’s ‘work-from-anywhere’ lifestyle have blurred the lines between work and private life. Because of this psychological shift, people may inadvertently share workplace information their employer would consider sensitive. Even if this data isn’t trade secret level, the accumulation of the small ‘non-sensitive’ items shared may allow a business’s competitors to gain insight and intelligence about plans within that company.
 
More and more enterprises are taking advantage of the benefits that real-time collaborative tools and Web 2.0 technologies bring, and this new way of working heralds an evolved approach to security – one which enables better business communications without comprising data, systems, or an organisation’s reputation, and with the end result being improved engagement with employees, customers and suppliers, and ultimately better overall business performance.

Hilary Backwell is head of human resources at Clearswift.
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