E-business is brought to book

There is a plethora of books about e-business for those in search of greater knowledge - but which ones to choose? Ross Bentley...

There is a plethora of books about e-business for those in search of greater knowledge - but which ones to choose? Ross Bentley reviews three tomes which look at a different aspect of e-commerce

A respected adversary

Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World
Bruce Schneier
John Wiley & Sons/ ISBN 0471253111

The digital world is a dangerous place. Who can you trust? How about Bruce Schneier? In April 1999, Schneier, mathematician and digital security expert, decided to reorganise his company, Counterpane Internet Security, and the experience changed his view of securing computer systems. The fruits of that thinking also make up the bulk of his engaging and exhaustive new book, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World.

He has worked in cryptography and electronic security for years, and has reached the conclusion that, despite the wonders of technology, even the sexiest code and toughest hardware will yield to attackers who exploit human weaknesses in the users. "Security is rooted in the physical world. The physical world is not logical. It is not orderly," he explains. "People don't play along. They do the unexpected; they break the rules."

In a land of rule-breakers, rules-based systems are not especially useful. Instead of building the digital equivalent of Hadrian's Wall, Schneier argues, it is far more effective to think of security as an ongoing process of "risk management" that includes not just protection, but also detection and response mechanisms. "Too many system designers think about security design as a cookbook thing," writes Schneier. Add a firewall and a pinch of encryption, and eventually you'll have a secure system.

Secrets and Lies, then, isn't so much a "how-to" as a "how-to-think" - a philosophical road map by which Schneier guides the reader along the same path that brought about his own new thinking. With the single-minded discipline of a programmer, Schneier spends almost two-thirds of this 400-page book getting to know the mind of the enemy; that is the hackers, the malicious insiders, the lone criminals, the info-warriors.

According to Schneier, "threat modelling" is the way forward. This is his way of teaching readers to think like the most methodic of thieves. He provides a series of cognitive exercises designed to get the criminal synapses firing. How might one rig an election or hack a stored-value smartcard without getting caught, for instance?

The book is neatly divided into three parts, covering the turn-of-the-century landscape of systems and threats, the technologies used to protect and intercept data, and strategies for proper implementation of security systems. In view of the length of this tome and the dryness of the subject matter readers will appreciate Schneier's humour. One minute he's analysing the security issues for the rebels and the Death Star in Star Wars, the next he is poking fun at the giant software and e-commerce companies that consistently sacrifice security for functionality.

In the wake of this year's denial-of-service attacks on major Web sites, Schneier's book joins a host of other works on digital security. Setting himself apart, Schneier navigates rough terrain without being overly technical or sensational - two common pitfalls of those who write on this issue. All this helps to explain his long-standing cult-hero status, even among his esteemed hacker adversaries.

How to do e-business

Digital Transformation: The Essentials of E-Business Leadership
Keyur Patel and Mary Pat McCarthy
McGraw Hill ISBN 007 136 4080

In view of the successes of e-business pioneers such as Cisco and Amazon.com there can no longer be any doubt that the future of business is inextricably bound up with Internet. But for many business people and company executives, serious questions remain about making the leap into a digital business world.

To what extent must the Internet become part of our organisation? Should we focus our e-business initiatives on business-to-business or business-to-consumer activities? How will our processes be affected by a digital transformation, and how do we align our company to support key business strengths? Should our e-business be managed within the company or spun off as an autonomous entity?

Written by Keyur Patel and Mary Pat McCarthy: top e-business strategists with KPMG and KPMG Consulting, Digital Transformation provides answers to these and other questions about what it takes to win in the Internet economy, and lead a business through e-business transition.

As the authors say in the introduction, "There is no shortage of books extolling the virtues of e-business and its technology underpinnings. This isn't one of them. We won't talk about network equipment, software systems or Web servers because that isn't the kind of knowledge that will help you succeed.

"And we won't advise you to copy any particular dotcom's e-business strategy. That's the prescription for followship, not leadership."

Digital Transformation is not simply an ode to e-commerce and the technologies behind it. It offers a guide, without hype or confusion, to doing business on the Internet and reveals what the authors see as the fundamental principles behind digital transformation.

The book is based, in large part, on extensive interviews with those at the forefront of the e-business revolution - including Cisco chief executive officer John Chambers, Dan Schulmann, president of Priceline.com and Computer Associates chief executive officer Charles Wang. It also includes advice from an assortment of industry visionaries and luminaries. Digital Transformation offers executives a chance to learn how to become an Internet-enabled organisation from those who have already done so.

With the help of some case studies there are pointers as to why companies such as Cisco, Intel and Microsoft have been successful at harnessing the power of the Internet while others have missed the boat.

The clear message is that success depends on "a profound commitment to digital transformation, in which a company's business processes are defined by the customer and enabled by technology".

Weighing in at the length of a compact novella, this book is short enough for most folks to digest it on a five-hour flight and still have time to catch the second half of the film.

E-business for beginners

An IBM Guide to Doing Business on the Internet
Kendra Bonnett
McGraw Hill ISBN 007 031 8468

IBM-watchers will have noticed the change in strategic direction Big Blue has taken over the past three or four years. The company, which claims to have invented the term e-business, first promoted business-using Internet technology by showing advertisements of corporate men in suits sweating over the design of a Web site. More recent ads, however, have concentrated on small businesses - the guitar shop in Seattle, the cheese farm in Palermo - and how e-business can help them reduce costs and reach customers far afield.

If you are a small business and you want to start selling online, you could use this book to organise your efforts and help you become more successful. It has a good step-by-step approach that will take you where you need to go.

On the other hand, if you are already a heavy Web user and know what you like, you are beyond most of the advice in this book. At the same time, you will find many good ideas for your business here that you might not find elsewhere. So you might want to skim it even if you think you are in pretty good shape.

Packed with dozens of real-world examples, user tips and insights from industry leaders, both from inside and outside IBM, this is a practical guide to the tools needed to excel in today's Internet era. The guide will provide readers with IBM's insights on: essential rules for doing business online; how to create Web site content and leave the graphics to the designers; low-cost ideas to test marketing and advertising messages, using the Internet as a competitive weapon; creating Internet communities that keep customers coming back for more; and business-to-business strategies.

The book's main weakness for beginners is that it states some hard-to-execute principles without a lot to help them. For example, you are encouraged to think out of the box (that is, to think differently than you think now). This is not as straightforward as it sounds. But readers should expect this kind of IT jargon in books such as these - it is the nature of the beast.

One pleasant surprise is that there is only one reference to IBM's services in the book, and that is handled in an evenhanded and low-key way. Businesses are told that they may want to consider employing help in some areas, and IBM is mentioned as one possible source. This was well handled.

So, with this book there is nothing to stop you. Read it through and off you go on the road to e-business success.

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