If you had the power . . .

Linux would be the de facto operating system, identity management would be a breeze and . . . what else? We deemed four of you all-powerful and asked how you'd change the world

Imagine this: With the wave of a magic wand, you're suddenly all-powerful. You can change today's network industry in any way you want. What would you do, and how?

The power is yours

We posed such a challenge to four veteran enterprise network executives: Arun DeSouza, manager of global service assurance and chief information security officer at Inergy Automotive Systems in Troy, Mich.; Christopher Paidhrin, IS security officer at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash.; Jonathan Campbell, director of technology at First Health of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, N.C.; and Elliot Zeltzer, global manager for telecom security at General Motors in Detroit.

In their own words, here's how they would wield their newfound power:

If you had the power to alter any vendor's product strategy in any way, what company would you choose, and what would you do?

DeSouza: Symantec -- I would cease the strategy of constant new acquisitions and technologies, which is diluting the customer-value proposition. I would focus on consolidation, enhancement and integration of existing tool sets. Essentially, my ultimate goal would be to provide holistic centralized management of the portfolio products. This would give me a simplified, security-management cockpit. The consequent increase in efficiency and productivity for IT staff would add to our bottom line and cascade to additional revenue for Symantec

Paidhrin: Microsoft -- the aspect of concern is that the industry's software-development life cycle is constrained by Microsoft's strategic plan, platform and metaphor, because of the company's dominance.

Open source is making noticeable market-share headway, especially in non-U.S. markets, and it shows the way to a dynamic future . . . . The brief history of IT has proven what the long history of innovation has consistently revealed: Nothing slows down a good idea faster than artificial control by the few, and inversely, nothing speeds the adoption of a good idea faster than its ready accessibility.

Campbell: Vendors that have stuck with Microsoft Windows as the operating system for their applications or various networking appliances need to change their product strategies. What's wrong with Linux? Cisco's CallManagers, for instance, have been Microsoft for a long time, and now with Version 5.0, they're finally Linux. That [Linux] product strategy will be winnable, but most people just decide to build it on Microsoft because everyone knows Microsoft. That's not a winning strategy.

Zeltzer: We want suppliers to work within a common framework, and all of them need to do a better job. The challenge at GM is we're so large. You name it, we're dealing with it. And when you deal with an environment that large, and you come down to the desktop, you could have maybe 30 elements from 20 suppliers. It's difficult to have a common build, to get it certified, tested and then create the user experience with any care.

So we've started to say to these suppliers, and we've said it hard and fast: "Guys, here's the framework you need to work within to get something on our desktop, and I don't want to see proprietary products." They deliver their services, I certify the framework and then I don't have to recertify each time a new product comes along.

DeSouza: I would focus on resolving application-performance management. The approach would be a strategic combination of consolidation, optimization and access for applications and data. The enabler is clearly a combination of architecture (Web applications, terminal services, data centers) and QoS technologies. The rationale is that enterprise applications are vehicles for management information and business intelligence to allow proactive collaboration and execution in a competitive, rapidly changing business environment.

Paidhrin: The looming challenge is in identity management. The paradigm of the firewalled perimeter is dying. The service-provider model and virtual network are replacing it. The central issue remains strong, transparent identity access control. Address this issue, and the IT domain will leapfrog into a bright future.

There are numerous solutions, but they are for the most part proprietary, expensive, cumbersome and a hassle for the individual. I would recommend the adoption of an international standards-body model for identity management, where differing technologies and solutions could build on a common set of protocols, encryption algorithms and interfaces to vastly simplify the individual's experience.

Most of us carry car and house keys, wear a name badge at our workplace or have some form of identification on our person. Identity management should mirror this experience, whether we swipe a card, insert a USB key, use a biometric scanner or hold an RFID device [for proximity-sensing devices]. Ease of use and transparency are the keys.

Campbell: I would like to see vendors stop pushing technology and products into the marketplace before they're ready. It seems like the attitude of late is let's get it to the market and clean up the mess later.

Zeltzer: What I've encountered is the mobility conundrum. People have PDAs, mobile phones, BlackBerries and PCs that are mobile, but when we try to collaborate, people spend a lot of time with their mobility tools as opposed to working on the topic at hand. I'm sure you've been in a meeting with five other people, and they're doing five other things and not paying attention. Or you could be in a meeting and a cell phone comes on, and people just rudely interrupt the meeting to go do their cell phone activity. While mobility has strong positives -- I wouldn't eliminate the technology -- I'd say let's create an etiquette model that helps us work with mobility and collaboration in the corporate environment. We need a model that leverages the benefits of mobility but doesn't create nonproductive or distracting environments. We've let the genie out of the bottle. Now we have to create rules to work with it.

DeSouza: I would make environmental protection a major goal. This would be especially true of manufacturing companies -- where a lack of focus on solid, liquid and gaseous wastes causes incalculable harm. However, even for others, focusing on conservation, recycling and minimizing use and waste of pulp and paper products and energy could be extremely beneficial.

Paidhrin: As long as there is commerce, there will be greed, corruption and power, disparity in wealth, winners and losers. I would not fantasize it could be different. Accountability -- through transparency -- would make a difference.

It is a marvel what the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has done and will do for corporate America. Still, there are forces at work to circumvent this accountability law. If accountability were a true American corporate virtue, then all corporate entities would have an inspector general's office -- a truly independent internal affairs function to monitor and ensure policy and behavior compliance. I would propose such a role be constituted in every organization.

This function would be a badge of honor, like an ISO-9000 or Six Sigma certification. It would be a point of pride that says to the marketplace we believe in transparency, honesty and corporate integrity.

Campbell: I would try to stop pushing technology and products into the marketplace before they're ready. You need to have longer beta product-testing times in various and diverse environments. People tend to lab these products up in a clean environment, and it doesn't work.

Zeltzer: I'd like to see corporate America continue the green strategy and continue to be very environmentally sensitive. The greening of America is consistent with a lot of other corporate strategies and . . . has a real value at the end.

If you had the power to reverse time, what technology development would you stop and make sure it never gets to market?

DeSouza: Peer-to-peer technologies. The reasons are simple. First, there is the loss of intellectual property and revenue for content producers. Second, there is a loss of productivity, especially among the youth whose focus is diverted from pursuit of productive tasks. Finally, there is also a security threat for corporate environments -- with possible loss of corporate knowledge and financial capital and harm caused by viruses, worms and malware via the peer-to-peer connection.

Paidhrin: As much as I abhor the despoiling of the biosphere, I do not have a dystopian perspective of technological developments. Our global culture is built upon Nobel's dynamite, Tesla's alternating current and Oppenheimer's atomic bomb. The dual-edged sword of technology has revealed itself from the beginning of craft and use of tools. Plus, the irony of removing one technology is the inevitable introduction of an alternative -- necessity and creativity being the mothers of invention and innovation.

But if I had to pick one thing to reverse, it would have to be Guglielmo Marconi's theft of Nikola Tesla's patented radio technologies (Marconi worked in Tesla's lab for a short time). The U.S. Supreme Court later validated Tesla's patent claim (U.S. Patent 645576). Tesla was the linchpin of innovation and invention between the 19th and 20th centuries. His inventions include alternating current, wireless communications, electric motors and generators, transformers, transmission systems, lighting systems, seminal advancements in electronics and physics theory and applications, and the list goes on. Had Tesla's rights and royalties for radio been given him, the possibilities for numerous additional inventions and technologies would have been enormous.

Campbell: I would stop the BlackBerry. It's so addictive, and it's become a social shortfall. E-mail is bad enough for people, where they don't want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, but now you're throwing a BlackBerry in there, too? When you go into a meeting, it's worse than a Dilbert cartoon.

Zeltzer: There is a lot of technology that isn't well-intentioned, like spam and virus technology. Those are technologies that are malicious and in some cases damaging. If I had a magic wand that let me reverse development and prevent it for all time, then spam and viruses would be the top two items.

Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, Mass. She can be reached at jocummings@comcast.net.

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