A Business Technology Place

The data we see

What we see

When I was an intern in college I worked as a desktop service technician for computer support. I remember an internal financial auditor on the fourth floor of my building that I would occasionally help. Reese was much older than me, but took time to talk to me about life as I fixed his computer. I wish I would have appreciated it more at the time, but I was young and learning my way in a corporate environment.  I thought about him recently because the world of auditing and compliance is changing rapidly in the areas of security and availability of data. While Reese was making sure our company followed GAAP for our financial books I wonder what he would think about compliance controls for information security.

Our news feeds are filled with incidents, thefts, and breaches of company assets involving personal and protected information. A whole new generation of auditors is here to check compliance with controls for how we protect data like credit card numbers, health records, and education records. Identity thieves and hackers have created a gold-rush in recent years to steal data bits that when assembled correctly tell them about you and me. Digital gold.

What we do with it

Today, I have to answer the auditor’s questions about controls in the audit. Unlike my time with Reese, I’m no longer part of the auditor’s day to fill time with a nice break and chit-chat. When I am answering an audit, I often try to really understand the basis of a control or as I as the “spirit” of what the control is trying to achieve (auditors don’t always like this, they’re often a bit stiff).

But here’s my take. The essential question behind the myriad of compliance controls is “what do we do with and how do we protect the data we see in our jobs?”  The intention of the controls is to modify our behaviors to take greater care of the data we see. To do this we have to modify our behavior to treat the data we see like our personal accounts. That means we have to consider who has access to the data. We have to consider the classification of the data we see (confidential, private, restricted, public, etc.) and take action to protect the data in storage and transit.

Thieves rely on our inconveniences to be successful. Restricting access to data in storage and transit is rarely convenient. It requires we think, classify, and take action. It could mean we need to password protect a file, use a secure site for sending a file to a customer, or check to make sure the network folder is only accessible to people in our immediate workgroup. But it doesn’t stop there; sometimes we need to challenge people asking for information.  Tailgating and phishing are made possible because it is uncomfortable for us to challenge people.

Behaviors worth changing

One thing is certain. We are stewards of the data we see each day. Our customers expect us to treat the data with confidentiality and care as if it were own personal data. Forming good habits in data security is worth a little bit of hassle. So here are some practical steps I can offer to help us be better stewards of the data we see each day at work:

  • Take the annual Information and Security Awareness training seriously. Much of the information will repeat each year, but it serves as reinforcement for good habits and the tactics used by thieves.
  • Be cognizant of the data we handle. Classify the data and treat it accordingly. This may mean marking the data classification on documents, storing data in secure places, or using encrypted controls for transferring data to others.
  • Challenge others who ask for access to data. Make sure they truly need access to the data to complete their assigned job function. Make sure they understand the classification of the data.

It’s rarely convenient. But it’s worth the effort.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker via creative commons

Password Management System

How do you manage your passwords?

Electronic password managers were created with the goal to help all of us have a more structured approach to storing and retrieving our passwords. But not everyone uses electronic password managers because they don’t know about them, don’t trust them, or because they require extra steps when it is time to authenticate with a service. Many people still rely on sticky notes and paper notebooks.  

I’m convinced passwords are one the largest nuisances in life for most people. It’s easy to see why. Different sites have different password rules and modern password complexity rules require us to use with specials characters, numbers, and capital letters. We can’t reuse password, they have to be a minimum length, and they can’t contain parts of our name or email. I’m dizzy already.

There are two problems with this system:

  1. The rules are not our natural way of processing language and thinking. Result? Passwords are not easy to create and not easy to remember.
  2. To keep up with passwords effectively we all need a system. Sticky notes by the keyboard are not accepted.

Password managers; the good and the bad.

One system to use for credentials management is an electronic password manager tool. There are numerous tools available on the market. Some of them are locally installed on a computer while others are cloud based.

The good

  • Easily searchable
  • Accessible from wherever you are
  • Encrypted text
  • Password auto-creation to match site complexity rules.
  • Accessible only those with whom you share or that have your credentials.

The bad

  • One key to rule them all
  • Cloud based services are targets for attack and exposed to more thieves on the internet
  • The security of electronic sites and applications are frequently exposed for new weaknesses

Don’t lose site of what is at stake.

Regardless of how you feel about electronic password tools compared to a paper based system, don’t lose site of the importance of having a secure system. It’s your data and your life. Identity theft is both harmful and disruptive. Having a password management system can be a time saver too. When you need access to your data you don’t want to spend time looking through drawers and notebooks.

It appears password complexity rules may be changing in the near future as research is showing password length is better than complicated rule sets. So making passwords longer without special characters is a win for both usability and security. In the meantime, make sure you create a safe system.

Onward and upward!

More or Less?

Truth.

There will always be more work to do than is possible to accomplish by my team.

Think more. Whine less.

Earlier this year I penned some thoughts about thinking through resource contention, Do more with what you have!, because I was looking for better ways to address resource contention than to simply say more people are needed. Getting stuff done is as much a mindset as it is a collection of work output. I’ve learned that when I am overwhelmed with size of the backlog of tasks then the frequency of my output decreases.

In the book, ReWork,  Fried and Hansson address the value of staying lean with less,

“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative. “

Do I believe that? The words do inspire me to look at my backlog through a different set of lenses. One thing I know is this. If I’m able to produce consistent output that adds value to the customer and mission of my team then conversations about the priority of the backlog are easier.

In the book Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne say it this way,

“instead of getting more resources, tipping point leaders concentrate on multiplying the value of the resources they have.”

The Theory of Constraints management paradigm teaches us to first find the constraint within a process and then to exploit the constraint by shifting resources, managing work queues, and possibly adding capacity. With this lense, value is unlocked by first examining the underlying process instead of trying to add more people.

More or less?

As I sit writing this, I’m led to these conclusions:

More is contentment with less because having less allows me to get more done.

Less is obsession about more, because having more often leads to getting less done.

Onward and upward!

JIT Action Items for the Office Worker

Just in time.

Picture this. You are reviewing a list of tasks that was assigned to colleagues in your business. You remind one of the task owners their action item is due tomorrow and they respond, “I have it on my list, but I’m operating just-in-time.”

This happened to me recently. The word choice “just in time” (JIT) is from a Lean concept in which production output is managed by when the customer requests delivery rather than when the producer can complete the task. Most office workers today don’t match-up their behavior with Lean Principles. But even if you aren’t a Lean practitioner, there is tangible value to considering the JIT approach.   One of the primary goals of JIT is to eliminate waste by not working or storing excess inventory. For this blog post, I’m writing about assignments, tasks, and action items for office personnel. Think of excess inventory as assignments that are completed but never used or maybe action items that are started but never finished. That is considered waste and our time is too valuable to spend it producing work that doesn’t add value for the customer.

Three ways to structure a task list for JIT delivery in the office:

1. Purge non-value added activities.

 

 

So often we spend our time prioritizing tasks to stack rank them for the order they should be worked. With ‘Lean’ thinking the first question should be “do the results of this activity add value for the customer or is it a necessary non-value added activity?” (i.e. compliance task). My experience with tasks prioritized low is over time they eventually fall off the list because they are no longer needed. This most often means it was never a value added activity and just clutter on the backlog (unnecessary inventory). It’s a good idea to review the backlog of tasks on some recurring interval to purge non-value added activities.

2. Group items into buckets already covered by standard work activities.

 

 

Some action items may fit into already established recurring work activities where standards and time allotments exist. If that is the case, then it’s not necessary to create additional time for one-off production of work output. An example of this recently happened to me. A compliance control required the review of at-risk vendors and documentation of the results. I already had time assigned on my calendar for a quarterly review of security and risk related items as part of a security committee agenda. Rather than add a new task for myself, this compliance control was added a responsibility of the Security and Risk Committee. The concept for this idea is to examine recurring activities already part of standard routines. Some assigned tasks may naturally fall into those routines and intervals.

3. Use a calendar of due dates to help with priority sequencing.

 

 

Putting due dates for action items on a calendar provides several nice features for structuring work. It enables the ability to preview the calendar for upcoming work (Daily or Weekly) which triggers work execution. The concept of JIT relies on keeping inventory of unused work at a minimum. With this thought in mind, try to avoid having active progress on work that isn’t due because it may take away time from working on tasks that are due.  The challenge with this method is estimating how long a task will take to complete and being able to work through unplanned interruptions.


So being a JIT employee isn’t quite like being a Jedi employee. But then again, if you can consistently deliver action items in the expected time frame, it won’t take long to reach Jedi status in your office.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Philip West via Creative Commons.

Revisiting – What are you known for?

Deja Vu

I recorded a few rambling thoughts one day after work this week. That’s how many of my blog posts originate. Things happen through the course of a day that stick with me into the evening. When I jot down my thoughts, I see interactions with people, process observations, desires for a better solutions, and things I want to change.

This week I looked over my notes and thought, “What do I want to be known for?” It’s a question I knew I had asked myself in the past. Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled What are you known for?  In that post I expressed my desire to be known more for providing solutions over following processes. I’m a practitioner of following processes, but the process itself isn’t bigger than the results it provides.

Dr. No

Fast forward to today. The Information Technology landscape is increasingly burdened with applying more security and availability controls to keep customers data safe and to achieve compliance with standards. But compliance is never convenient. The IT guy is caught in the cross hairs of a battle between making the work environment more secure and the extra burden it places on other employees. Burden in this context means restrictions. Lots of them.  

Traditionally, IT has been known as Dr. No. There are restrictions on what hardware employees can use and what software they can install; Internet sites are blocked, software can’t be downloaded, etc. This is the seed that birthed Shadow IT where departments arrange and install software outside the approvals and processes of their local IT group.

A better way

I’ve had too many experiences in my career watching people telling someone else they can’t do something for one reason or another. It’s not only frustrating; it drains the energy and motivation of those involved.

But it doesn’t have to be this way in every situation.

A better partner explains the constraints of the problem and solution. Instead of ending a discussion with ‘no’, he or she will offer alternatives for a solution.

 

“We can’t do that for you, but what we can do is this…..”

“That’s not possible, but I know a way that is….”

“We are prohibited by policy/contract/compliance control from doing that, but there a few different ways to accomplish something similar….”

 

Of course, the person on the receiving end has to be able to compromise and think about the solution in different way as well. It takes two to make the partnership happen.

If you are a solution provider, don’t stop at the word ‘no’.

If you are a solution receiver, be open to alternative ways of doing things.

What do you want to be known for?

Onward and upward!