Editor's Window28 Feb, 2005 By: Sara Ferris
Communication breakdown: Striking a balance between sharing and security.
The industry analysts from cyon research recently sent a list of what they expect to be hot topics for discussion at this year's edition of COFES (Congress on the Future of Engineering Software; www.cofes.com). Part think tank, part conference, but always thought-provoking and inspiring, this event brings together vendors, customers and industry analysts to examine challenges facing the industry.
There's a common theme to many of the items on the Cyon list: the delicate balance between hoarding and sharing, or from a slightly different angle, open and closed.
On the one hand, a key to an organization's success is its intellectual property, which encompasses both the actual products or services offered and the knowledge and expertise that goes into creating them. The tendency is to want to protect these assets, even hide them, to retain the edge they give you over your competition.
On the other, factors such as globalization and outsourcing are driving the need to share designs and information with far-flung offices, partners and suppliers. One of the promised payoffs from involving suppliers more closely in the design and manufacturing process is tapping into their expertise to benefit your own design process. And it's often cheaper to hire outside experience than to develop your own.
It's no surprise that in a recent survey of participants in the building process, those (architects and engineers) who are most likely to share documents with people outside their organization are also those most concerned with document security. We've all heard the stories about the overseas manufacturer that comes out with a cut-rate version of a product it was contracted to produce, or the watermarked architectural detail that shows up again in a "new" drawing.
Cyon speculates that the open-source workplace will be upon us in the next five years. I don't see businesses moving wholesale to adopt open-source applications, but I do expect increasing demand for open formats, particularly from those organizations that have the heft to make such demands. Still, even open formats won't cure the persistent problems with interoperability.
I also anticipate a backlash against some of the technologies that have helped encourage open exchange of knowledge. Cyon cites computer security, viruses and spam as major productivity drains that organizations will need to address, if they haven't already. One solution is to tighten up access to the outside world, whether through spam filters, blocks on certain keywords or file types, or restrictions on Internet access. GlobalSpec reports great interest in an enterprise version of its Engineering Web for use by companies that want to provide just a relevant subset of the Internet for employees to access.
In a similar vein, regulatory requirements such as Sarbanes-Oxley may force communications clampdown as companies implement policies for retaining e-mail, instant messages and other electronic records.
Still, forces such as globalization and economic pressure to compress the time needed to bring a product to market or complete a building won't disappear, so the need to share information will only increase. The challenge will be to find new and better ways to do so.