Your shout! On alternatives to 'users' and 'the business'

In response to Naked Leader David Taylor's first monthly column (Computer Weekly 22 February)


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On alternatives to 'users' and 'the business'

In response to Naked Leader David Taylor's first monthly column (Computer Weekly 22 February)

I would like to ask about the following statements in David Taylor's column:

  • "Never ever call me a user."
  • "Stop using the term 'the business' to mean everyone else in your organisation."
  • "Please do not call internal colleagues customers."

Although I realise that the damage done by using the terms above is mitigated by all the actions David Taylor identified in his column, it would be better not to use them at all. The only problem is that I have not yet come up with concise, acceptable substitutes - do you have any suggestions, please?

Sarah Jane Thornley, head of strategy and planning, Metronet IT Services

David Taylor replies: Choose one and ensure that everyone adopts the same words. "User" is a superfluous word - banish it completely and we get, for example, a "guide for marketing" rather than a "user guide". For individuals we can use people's names or at worst, "someone in marketing is..."

"The business" means everyone in the organisation including IT, and instead of "customers" use "colleagues" or "partners".



On the challenge of legacy upgrading

In response to advice given to CIOs on legacy modernisation (Computer Weekly, 1 March)

Despite the challenges, legacy modernisation is crucial for organisations that spend too much maintaining the business value of their outdated information systems.

Asking the IT department to rewrite a legacy system from scratch comes with a high risk of failure. Also, the move from client/server to internet applications and XML-based web services using technology such as Microsoft .net involves a complete change in the programming environment and is very complex. This generally ends up costing a fortune in development, deployment and associated labour costs.

In many cases the business process in the legacy system is perfectly adequate and the main driving force for modernisation is the need to deploy via web browsers and to update the user interface to meet the expectations of today's users. Some XML-based rapid application development tools are available that web-enable existing business logic from legacy applications without the need for expensive rewrites. This can substantially reduce development time and costs.

That said, one of the main reasons migration can be so cost-intensive is that IT departments spend most of their time configuring the look and feel of an application. What is needed is a way to shorten development time by putting the power into users' hands.

By getting users to develop the interface to their own requirements, IT departments can focus on the nuts and bolts of an application, meaning that migration projects can be delivered quicker.

David Hipkin, managing director, FastNET ASP


On making websites accessible to all

In response to Mick Hegarty's opinion piece (Computer Weekly 8 March), which outlined simple rules to improve business websites

What a pity Hegarty overlooked the issue of accessibility.

Last year the Disability Rights Commission published a report which said that hundreds of businesses may face legal action because their websites are not accessible to disabled customers.

Web accessibility is about making your website accessible to all internet users (both disabled and non-disabled) regardless of what browsing technology they are using.

With 9.8 million disabled people in the UK, with a spending power of some £50bn, what greater incentive do small businesses need? Making your website accessible to all is good for business.

David Sparrow, Disability Rights Commission



Look to US example on software patents

There is so much hot air on the software patents debate and most of the argument is based on the emotional case for free software or the similarly emotional case for intellectual property without either side explaining clearly what this means in practice.

At the one extreme, none of us want to see patents on things that are simple or obvious, are derivative or take no time or effort to develop. The recent example of Microsoft patenting the duration for which a button is pressed is one example where it is hard to argue a case for protection.

On the other hand, it is conceivable there might be areas of software development that rely on huge amounts of investment and where protection would be a stimulus to software development in Europe.

So the proponents of software patents need to advance the case for protection by citing examples of software development that by their very nature require such patent protection.

As we went without software patents in Europe for the years of the dotcom boom, during which time patents were available in the US, the proponents of patents will be able to cite examples of developments that have taken place in the US but which have not taken place in Europe.

In other words, there will be clear examples of the ways software patents stimulate software development.

On the other hand, if clear, citable examples do not existÉ

Mark Ellse, principal, Chase Academy


New firms must watch patent infringement

I noted two neatly linked articles on intellectual property and software (Computer Weekly, 8 March).

The first was Alison Bryce's look at the matter of intellectual property, patents and codethat others can read (open source).

The second was the editorial article, What has happened to Europe's software firms?, which bemoaned the small number of large European software firms and tells of efforts to encourage young entrepreneurs.

Europeans do not make light of financial failure. Somebody in Europe who ends up with a failed enterprise can find themselves saddled with debt and stigma for years. In contrast, North American business failures are often more likely to obtain funding for a new enterprise on the basis they are unlikely to make the same mistake again.

To help persuade more young people to start their own enterprise in the software industry, perhaps you could get Bryce to let them know how little it would cost a fledgling company to have a complete search made of all world software patents to ensure that the product code they have just produced does not infringe any copyright.

It would be interesting to see exactly how many patents there are on software methods and how many are being registered each week.

Peter Lewis, Avex Building Computers


Government must take e-crime more seriously

I fully support minister Derek Wyatt and chairman of the All Party Internet Group in his quest to keep the reform of the Computer Misuse Act on the political agenda in the run-up to the election (Computer Weekly, 15 March).

If the UK is to have any chance of effectively tackling computer crime, the government must take the legal framework of the Computer Misuse Act more seriously.

Current legislation must be updated to criminalise the misuse of information (ie intellectual property) itself, not just the misuse of a computer. We must also consider how any such law can be enforced and the skills and resources needed to do so.

One worrying consequence of the government's relative inaction on e-crime is the underfunding of law enforcement agencies and the lack of computer forensic investigators.

The current situation begs the question: do we need an e-crime minister? Perhaps this would push the government to make internet crime a higher priority and would send out a strong signal to the criminal fraternity as well as those who may be tempted to engage in illegal online activities.

Chris Watson, senior computer forensic investigator, Ibas


Banks in best position to tackle ID fraud

Without getting into the politics of the national ID card debate, I must add my support to Bruce Schneier's thesis (Computer Weekly, 8 March) that banks are in the prime position, as the most regulated entities within almost all nation states, to manage and mitigate the burgeoning risks associated with identity theft and fraud.

One of the core historic intermediary roles of banks is that of operational risk and liability management. They created a cheque clearing system to minimise the risk of highway robberies of cash-laden stage coaches. They created the plastic card and more recently the plague of money-laundering has been substantially managed by banks collaborating globally.

They can follow the same principles in the era of instant electronic interactions where identity is the single common thread throughout a networked world. Steps taken so far, such as chip and Pin, substantially address identity-related crime, but transactions where the cardholder is not present are still wide open and this is where fraud and organised crime is surely migrating, and has already become a major issue.

Banks, like any business, need an incentive or business case to fully engage, and this is now starting to happen. They are driven by the need to cut costs and to do business ever more efficiently in highly competitive markets - as well as the need to minimise operational risk and losses arising from fraud.

It is to be hoped that wise words from acknowledged experts such as Bruce Schneier will spur them on and will be heeded by all interested parties (especially government) sooner rather than later.

John G Bullard, Identrus

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