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The News – 10/30/01
of eBusiness Has Dropped, and So Have Many Consulting Firms
It wasn’t all that
long ago that leading industry analysts like GartnerGroup were quoting million
dollar price tags for fully-developed, eCommerce-enabled Web sites. That
obviously scared many businesses away. According to BtoB magazine, however, the
price never really got that high, topping out at $608,000 last year. The real
good news is that the price has dropped significantly in the last year to
$250,000 for a large site and only $65,000 for a small site. The main reason
for the decline has been the dot-com collapse, according to the magazine.
Whereas last year many site builders couldn’t keep up with the demand, this
year the lack of dot-coms and the tight purse strings of blue chip firms has
driven many development firms to trim staff, cut costs, and even declare bankruptcy.
Also contributing to the lowered cost has been the maturation of the tools and
techniques consultants use to build sites. At the same time, the arms race of
advancements in HTML and other Web technologies has slowed over the past year.
This has allowed formerly-premium skillsets to become commoditized, and thus
cheaper to obtain.
All this means it’s
a buyer’s market for Web technology. In fact, there may never have been a
better time to buy Web technology. Unfortunately, customers are staying away in
gotten even worse for Web development houses since May, when the article was published.
There have been high-profile flameouts like MARCHfirst,
and a raft of industry mergers
Even the Big 5 consulting houses have had to roll back their rates and cut
staff. Nonetheless, size has offered some protection in the professional
services market, as the little guys are suffering as the big firms start
reaching lower in order to find deals.
An innovative way
for smaller professional services firms to gain size without consolidating is
represented by Catenas, a professional
alliance of 10 small to midsize companies with combined sales of $132 million.
The members are niche leaders in areas like Web development, relationship
marketing, and data mining, and none competes directly with the others. And
they’re not all companies you’ve never heard of. The McKenna Group, marketing
guru Regis McKenna’s company, is a member. The companies plan on sharing
employees, office space, project-management software, mass procurement, banking
relationships, and a credit line. Rather than participate in the current
industry consolidation, Catenas vows to never roll up its member companies, and
owns an equity stake from 10 percent to 49 percent in the member companies. In
turn, each of the member companies owns a 5 percent stake in Catenas. Using
business alliances as an alternative to mergers and acquisitions is becoming
more common phenomenon, often as an outgrowth of grassroots and industry
the market for Web solutions should be able to pick and choose from a selection
of ardent suitors. These competing professional services firms are using more
mature and less expensive toolsets that are more likely to produce the desired
result. All that’s the good news. The bad news is, if spending on eBusiness
development doesn’t pick up soon, attrition will assure buyers of much less
choice in the future. As firms shed high priced, experienced talent in an
attempt to compete on price, the quality of solutions could suffer as well. The
possible bright spot is the fact that professional services firms, with their 6
to 9 month deal lead times, are a lagging indicator. Once they bottom out, we
can be confident the economy is on the rebound.
- Shameless Self-Promotion
for a new directory, debuting this week: Nanotechnology Resources.
Frankly, I was overwhelmed at the amount of information on the Net about
this technology and thus didn’t get the directory finished in time for the
article in the last
SNS. It will feature commercial and academic resources along with pointers
to other directories and link pages.
- Time to Face Face
Recognition Software: In the post-WTC world, opposition to the ubiquitous use of face
recognition systems has lessened. There was a great hue and cry after
it was used at last year’s Super Bowl and by Tampa police in certain
problem neighborhoods. GartnerGroup sums it up this way: ”Predictably,
many object to using face recognition the way Tampa has, arguing that the
technology gives too much power to the state, and that it increases the
chance for misidentifications and false arrests. Others contend that the
technology provides a relatively nonintrusive means of apprehending known
felons and potential terrorists, as opposed to more traditional police
practices such as random street searches or roadblocks.” Nonetheless,
Gartner thinks face recognition could find uses in screening school
employees, day care workers, or bus drivers, in developing child ID
programs to help find missing children, and as a general authentication
scheme for computer access and voter identification.
Video crimefighting the old fashioned way was given a boost recently when
Biscom unveiled Webeyealert, which transmits live video via the Web or
mobile devices. The inexpensive, motion-activated product is aimed at
keeping tabs on work environments, schools, airports and other venues. One
high school in New Hampshire reported that vandalism ceased once
Webeyealert was deployed. So one way or another, it’s much more likely
someone is watching these days.
For me, the key to acceptance of surveillance systems, face recognition
and other biometric systems is how the technology is used. Currently, the
Tampa police erase images they obtain if there is no match to a known
criminal. Unless this procedure is mandated in law and in software,
however, there’s nothing to stop the police’s usage from evolving into
surveillance of citizens without probable cause. Before we go to overboard
on the use of any biometric technology, we have to be sure the problem
we’re solving is worth what we give up. For example, is voter fraud
widespread enough to make the creation of a face image database of the
entire US voting population worthwhile? The type of power represented by
such a step can only be good if we trust our government to always do the
right thing. Even Congress doesn’t do that. Witness the four-year time
limit it placed on the new law enforcement powers granted in the Mom &
Apple Pie, er, Anti-Terrorism bill. Gartner recommends government move
slowly on this issue, to ensure privacy concerns are adequately addressed.
- Denial of Service
Attacks Getting Scary: Carnegie Mellon's CERT Coordination Center warned recently that
Windows users and Internet routing equipment are the targets of miscreants
who launch denial of service (DoS) attacks online. A denial of service
attack enlists dozens or hundreds of machines (colorfully termed zombies)
to bombard a Web site with bogus requests, effectively denying service to
legitimate users. According to CERT, crackers have begun targeting
sections of the Internet that are likely to contain Windows machines. The
shift from Unix machines to Windows computers as the preferred DoS hosts
began late last year. Crackers are also using routers, which control the
flow of information on the Internet, in attacks, preying on machines with
weak passwords. Attackers are increasingly using Internet Relay Chat
(IRC), a type of Instant Messaging (IM) system, to direct DoS attacks.
Most alarming, however, was the contention by many speakers at a recent
security conference that things really aren’t that much better,
network-wise, than they were in February 2000, when a fifteen-year-old
Canadian boy used distributed denial of service tools against sites like
eBay, CNN.com and Yahoo!, knocking them offline.
- The Taliban Virus: With all that’s going on in the world, sometimes you
just need a good laugh. So here’s the Taliban Virus, presently circulating
in the wild:
You have just received a Taliban virus. Since we are not so technologically
advanced in Afghanistan, this is a MANUAL virus. Please delete all the files on
your hard disk yourself and send this mail to everyone you know.
Thank you very much for helping me.
- New Red Hat Linux Release Compromised? Just to try to convince those of
you who are sure I’m an anti-Microsoft bigot that I’m not, and in the
spirit of a previous
SNS, I present this item about the possibility of a breach of security in
version 7.2 of Red Hat Linux, released October23rd. A security expert
claimed the latest online update of the operating system, code named
"Enigma," may have been tampered with by attackers because two
distribution files available from some download sites were not digitally
signed by Red Hat. I’m immediately suspicious of this claim, however,
because it smacks of a publicity stunt. The source of the information is a
expert who just happens to plug his book in the news item. “Either Red
Hat did not sign these packages, or someone subverted the distribution
process before the files got to various sites,” said the expert, who will
remain nameless here to prevent any more free publicity. Without digital
signatures, “it becomes trivial for an attacker to replace packages on a
distribution site with no one being able to easily verify that they have
been subverted.” Red Hat confirmed that the
two files lacked signatures, but asserted that there was no security
compromise. The company didn’t sign the files because they did not deem it
necessary, according to a spokesperson. One of the unsigned files was
merely a listing of files in the distribution and the other contained the
version number of the release. Red Hat said security-conscious users
should obtain the distribution via CD ROM.
Blames the Messengers:
Scott Culp, manager for Microsoft's security response center, published an
essay on the company's site attacking the common practice of releasing
sample code that demonstrates a security hole in the company’s software.
Calling it “information anarchy,” Culp obviously seeks to draw a line
between responsible disclosure and arming people with the tools and
software needed to attack computers. You know what? I agree with him, to a
point. Many of the people who find and publicize bugs in Microsoft
software make no attempt to get the software giant to fix the problems
before releasing so-called exploit code. They do this for their own
reasons, which may include notoriety and hatred of the software monopoly.
I also agree with Culp when he argues that security bugs will never go
away. But what I don’t agree with is the rather transparent way that
Microsoft is trying to deflect blame from recent debacles like the Code Red
worm, which infected
more than a million Web servers running Microsoft's Internet Information
Server software, and the Nimda worm, which caused havoc by
exploiting holes in both servers and desktop computers running Microsoft
software. Microsoft needs to address the repeated vulnerabilities of their
software first, and blame the messengers later, no matter how
inappropriate their message is. C|Net
- Power from
science fiction concept of gathering abundant solar power via orbiting
satellites and beaming it to earth may be a feasible solution to our energy
problems, according to two recent studies. Space Solar Power (SSP) has
been discussed since the ‘60s, and reviewed by both NASA and the
Department of Energy in the past. In 1995, NASA started its Fresh Look
study of the technology, and concluded that it might be a good idea after
all, if the high cost of launching to orbit can be brought down. The
National Research Council (NRC) recently took a new look at NASA's current
SSP efforts in the report: Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power
- An Assessment of NASA's Space Solar Power Investment Strategy. The
report notes several advancements that help make SSP more feasible:
Improvements in solar cell efficiency and weight; wireless power
transmission tests in Japan and Canada; improvements in robot
manipulators, machine vision systems, hand-eye coordination, task
planning, and reasoning; and wider use of advanced composite materials and
digital control systems. The second study was done by energy and environmental
policy think tank Resources for the Future (RFF). The study looks at SSP
as a means of providing power for in-orbit activities, such as satellites
and space stations. One big advantage of such an approach is the ability
to leave out heavy power supplies when launching satellites into orbit.
Sounds like it may not be too long before Robert Heinlein’s 1942 view of a wireless-powered
future becomes reality.
to Mike’s Take
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