Subcontracting Information Management
In the past, I have suggested that firms might desire to subcontract peripheral functions such as catering and other overhead-associated activities to other companies, while focusing on their core business.
One area of the economy where this seems to be a real trend is that of information management. Google is marching towards becoming the world's clearinghouse for information.
For years, companies have been running their websites and hosting their email servers in-house. When they want an interactive network for co-operation on documents, they have been forced to host such applications on their own servers.
Now, thanks to Google, such companies can outsource such work so they can focus on actually using those services, rather than running them.
Companies no longer have to fret about their systems administrator forgetting to back up crucial data, or going postal on them (some very graphic but hilarious illustrations of how reliant companies are on their sysadmins can be found in the Bastard Operator from Hell columns written by Simon Travaglia).
However, there is one important pitfall that may slow the uptake of this subcontracting trend, which has been maintaining a strong pace — according to Google, a thousand small businesses sign up for their productivity applications everyday.
The problem is security. The obvious issue, of course, is that data transmitted over the Hypertext Transfer Protocol on the hackable internet is much more vulnerable to being seen by those who should not have access to it, than it would be if it were confined to an internal company network.
But a more pressing problem is whether people can trust Google with their company secrets. Are you really going to store those plans for your killer app or that product which will wipe out the competition on a server you don't have physical access to?
Some might be inclined to dismiss this as paranoia — after all, the same could very well be said for making a bank deposit — dare you trust these people to store your hard-earned cash in a facility you cannot enter or examine?
However, these two problems are a bit different. In the case of money, it's very clear when theft has occurred — your account's statement will be unequivocal on the fact that you have less money than you ought to.
On the other hand, there is no physical way to tell if someone unauthorised has been looking at your classified business secrets. This is a major technological drawback that cannot be solved easily.
I think that in the end, data will have to be stored in some physical way that ensures it will be obvious if the data has been accessed by anyone other than those who are allowed to see it. There must be some way to interface the intellectual world with the physical — technology to make it clear if someone is tapping a secure communication has been in the works for quite a while.
This is thus something Google might not be best placed to handle, since Google's specialty is software rather than hardware. Whoever can tackle this problem with subcontracted information management, however, will have really hit the jackpot.