Now that the election is over maybe it’s finally safe to talk about something that’s been on my mind. I didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole, but it’s obviously very relevant to IT and our industry: I’m talking about Hillary’s emails.
As a tech person, I was very curious: why would somebody put a server in the basement of a house to power a system that includes confidential emails? To me, that logic defies common sense. But, I’ve worked in IT for over 20 years. I am tech-savvy; not everyone is.
I decided to research what kind of technology the government uses and learned that the State Department’s systems are ancient; just accessing email through the State Department system is very tedious and cumbersome. Colin Powell has spoken publicly about his efforts as Secretary of State to modernize computer systems when he came into the job. At the beginning, he couldn’t even send or receive emails within the State Department. He eventually brought about a major modernization in which every U.S. embassy around the world finally had at least one computer with email capability.
This is crazy to me in light of the fact that anyone can send an email from nearly any computer or mobile device nowadays, and can do so securely. It just goes to show how woefully behind the times the entire infrastructure was when Hillary Clinton entered the State Department, how difficult it was to do productive work using the State Department’s system.
It’s become very clear that the workarounds used by Hillary and her team were a bad idea. (Understatement of the year!) But I can see parallels in how we operate and do support for our clients. Given recent events, it’s important to ask ourselves: Are we too far behind or too far ahead of the tech curve?
At your company, if your technology is too far behind, your employees become frustrated because they compare your system’s usefulness to that of other businesses and their own technology at home. You may think that maintaining an old system is more secure, but water always flows downstream: your employees will find a way to be more efficient and productive, which likely means they’ll bring in their own tablets, laptops, and phones for work. And thus, you actually lose security.
(This goes for software in addition to hardware. If you have, say, an old or poorly designed Customer Relations Management solution, it’s probably slow, tedious, and crash-prone. If you’re supposed to document everything in this system, it’s guaranteed that people will start to keep notes in Word documents, emails, or Evernotes – not where they should. And that means less security…and probably a waste of a lot of money.)
We’ve come to learn that when we set up computers and lock them up very tightly, we lock out a lot of features and capability that would make employees more productive. And yet, when we unlock those features and capability, it’s more likely that security will be compromised, whether through a hack or someone clicking a bad link in an email. Drawing the line between security and productivity is very difficult for companies. We have clients who are very security-conscious, with a very rigid security perimeter, and then we have clients who prefer to let their employees do their jobs and then clean up their computers overnight. The problem is, in one scenario, people are less productive in a secure environment, and in the other, people are more productive until disaster hits, and then they’re not productive at all.
When it comes to security, at TekTegrity, we operate from an 80/20 perspective. We ask ourselves what security issues are most likely to happen to most people, most of the time, and then we do whatever we can to block those. But when we aim to block 100%, we absolutely stop productive work, and clients fire us as a result. The balance between security and productivity ends up being extremely difficult to define.
The same can be said for being too far ahead of the curve. With bleeding edge technology, you wind up with systems that are buggy and unreliable. New features that look awesome on paper don’t really work all that well. In summary, you fall off the productivity spectrum when you’re too old or too cutting edge. There is a middle band where systems are by-and-large secure and by-and-large productive – and that’s the sweet spot where we at TekTegrity aim to land.
Going into the New Year, reflect on your company: Are you occupying that middle ground? Is your technology obsolete and/or locked up so tightly that people are working around it to be more productive? Or is it so cutting edge and/or insecure that you end up with great capabilities right up to the moment everything goes to a standstill?
Russ Levanway is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the CEO of an ever-growing managed services company with offices in both San Luis Obispo and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When not charting out the future for TekTegrity, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and traveling the world with his wife and two daughters.