Computer Weekly readers have their say
School league tables undermine IT take-up
I have recently read several letters and articles in Computer Weekly regarding the problem of the gender gap in the uptake of IT in schools.
I have been head of IT in an 11-16 comprehensive school for over 15 years and we have always had a very good uptake of girls for GCSE.
For the past six years I have fast-tracked several pupils each year to take the GCSE IT exam in year 10 and then take the GCE AS exam in computing in year 11.
The girls perform equally as well as the boys at both GCSE and GCE.
The problem of attracting more girls and even boys these days to take IT at GCSE (IT is not compulsory at Key Stage 4 in Wales) does not lie with course content, theory or practical - all pupils enjoy all aspects of both GCSE and AS computing.
The problem lies with senior management ("The dark side") who strongly advise pupils to take subjects like drama, media studies, religious studies, leisure and tourism etc because they are told it is easier to get top grades, thus improving the school's A*-C pass rate.
Iain M MacLean, head of ICT, Dyffryn School
Key to good outsourcing is a strategic contract
With regard to your Strategy Clinic on life after outsourcing (Computer Weekly, 20 September), I would like to stress that the key is to understand and manage the right outsourcing contract.
In any IT outsourcing, the nature of the contract is fundamental. You get what you procure, unless you expensively re-negotiate contractual terms. And remember that the contract works both ways, for customer and for supplier. Also, the team that negotiates the contract may not be the team that delivers against it, so it is important to be sure what capability will actually be provided to deliver against the contract.
The outsourcing contract is a large part of your IT strategy for the term of the contract, so your organisation should be clear on its approach to IT strategy before completing the negotiations. This will help to ensure that the contract does not block off strategic changes that are likely to be needed during the contractual term.
An outsourcing contract to support and encourage ongoing IT innovation will have a very different form from one to provide stable and unchanging IT services.
It is important to decide which view of outsourcing is more important to your organisation - having a strategic contractual framework for working together as customer and supplier in harmony, or, alternatively, having a supply contract for specific IT services.
Either way, it is important to negotiate a form of the contract that will support your organisation's strategic direction, both now and in the future.
Andy Ellis, research associateHenley Management College
Pragmatism is cure for cyber-terror hysteria
Bill Goodwin's article relating to Howard Schmidt's demand for security professionals to stop talking about cyber-terrorism and start talking about the availability of key business services raises several interesting issues ("Worry about data, not terrorism, says Schmidt," Computer Weekly, 20 September).
Not least among these was the pertinent point made by Schmidt that the use of loaded terms like "cyber-terrorism" is unhelpful and misguided and does nothing to help attain investment in core IT business services.
A recent survey we carried out found that only 5% of respondents cited terrorism as their principal reason for investing in information availability - the process that keeps businesses connected to their customers, suppliers and stakeholders.
Instead, the majority of companies choose to invest in contingency strategies due to their increased reliance on IT. The other reason behind investment in this area was compliance with the new regulations that have come into force over the past couple of years.
The fact remains that terrorism of any kind accounts for a very minimal amount of business disruption and downtime.
Mundane incidents such as hardware and software problems can have just as devastating an effect upon business and they occur far more frequently.
A pragmatic rather than hysterical approach to information availability is needed - one that helps organisations in terms of their preparedness and responsiveness to unwanted incidents.
This is key to delivering the "always on" status that their most business-critical processes demand.
Rob Thomson, director, strategy team, Sungard
On the threat of denial of service attacks
In response to the article "Most UK firms ignorant of risks from DoS attacks" (computerweekly.com, 4 September)
Your report on the lack of awareness UK firms have about denial of service (DoS) attacks should not be taken lightly.
The use of DoS attacks is on the rise. The damage they inflict should not be underestimated. They can bring unprotected organisations to their knees.
Widespread ignorance about DoS attacks among UK businesses means few have implemented the necessary preventative measures. While the majority of attacks are launched with the intention of extorting large sums of money, they may also be initiated by disgruntled employees and techno-activists. Every business with an online arm is at risk.
A number of defences are available at the ISP level as well as on enterprise and consumer networks and endpoints. When an attack hits, time is of the essence - this is not the moment to determine what is normal traffic and what can be safely discarded. Proactive measures must be put in place.
Jose Nazario, senior security engineer, Arbor Networks
On the need to be sure about licensing
In response to the article "House of Fraser drops Software Assurance for old licensing deal" (Computer Weekly, 6 September)
Despite Microsoft's significant efforts to improve the value of its Software Assurance programme, some users such as House of Fraser currently find better value in simply buying additional licences as they wish. But companies in this situation must be sure to buy them as they actually need.
To make such a bold about-turn on its software-purchasing policy, I am sure House of Fraser has accurate assessment and full knowledge of IT requirements. In an organisation of its size, establishing who is using what, and how often, is no mean feat.
The same is true of any medium-to-large organisation. Can you keep track of how many times Project, for example, has been used in the last year? If a new project manager started work tomorrow, would you order a new licence automatically?
It is no longer sufficient just to know what licences you have. To get the most out of your relationship with any software supplier you need a means to demonstrate exactly what you are using and, therefore, exactly what you need to upgrade or buy.
On the importance of vetting contractors
Regarding "cowboy contractors": as businesses choose to hire contractors instead of permanent IT staff, the firms face new pitfalls unless the necessary vetting procedures are in place.
The urgent need to recruit staff onto projects can cause employers to cut corners, such as not implementing rigorous checks. This flippant view that contractors are short-term assets can lead to long-term problems.
Businesses are often unaware of the extensive checks that need to be made regarding a candidate. Ensuring that potential employees are trustworthy and conscientious is as important as ensuring their stated experience or qualifications are accurate.
It is not only businesses that look to benefit from improved reference checks. Genuine, professional and experienced contractors can rest assured that they will not miss out on potential job opportunities, while organisations can be safe in the knowledge they have employed the right person for the job.
Alan Rommel, Parity Resources