Editorial

B2B or Not 2B
or e-b, e-b, e-b … that's all folks?

I love East Coast trade shows, especially in New York. Not that I'm a fan of the Big Apple itself by any means; it's just so convenient. I take the train in and out from Trenton, which, incidentally, has the best cup of joe at any price. Coming home, if a train is canceled, delayed or I happen to miss one, I simply grab the next, unless it's the last one for the night. The Javits Center is within walking distance; there's never any traffic to fight; no insane parking duels and certainly no airline with the I-couldn't-care-less, shrug-the-shoulder attitude.

So when I had a chance to jet in and out of "the city" for an e-commerce show last month I hopped an Amtrak and went on up. Of course, visiting New York, like any city, comes with a certain level of risk and insecurity.

On the train ride up I thought of a little amusement park near Perth Amboy, N.J. It was really more like a permanent carnival with concrete game booths and a few rides. One ride in particular, "The Wild Mouse" was a compact roller coaster that ran two, two-person cars across whipping, twisting, turning tracks.

After my first ride, my friend walked me around the track and pointed out the loose and missing bolts holding, or not holding, the framework together. Each time a car came by, parts of the structure creaked and groaned and even separated at certain junctions. With a half-crazed look in his eyes, my friend revealed, "That's the best part! Because you never know when the whole thing might fall apart!"

And to me, that sums up e-business. E-business is fast and furious, twisting and turning in on itself, taking users on a thrilling ride; but without proper security, or without tightening all the bolts, you never know when your entire infrastructure could come crashing down.

Despite all the hype, the Wall Street Journal ads and the e-commercials on prime time, e-commerce, especially Business-to-Business or B2B, is still laying down its tracks and the ride of opportunity is still wide open for anyone willing to jump on.

E-commerce, without a doubt, is a business initiative. In fact, according to a new e-business study by Cutter Consortium, 59 percent of the respondents doing e-business say that their business funds e-business and only 11 percent fund e-business exclusively through IT; the rest share the tab. And that's good, to a certain degree.

We've all heard about the children who went without toys Christmas day because mommy and daddy went to bed December 24 in their kerchiefs and caps saying to each other, "Don't worry, honey, I'm sure the order will be here tomorrow morning." But that's Business-to-Consumer or B2C. Just how reliable, and more importantly, how secure is today's B2B?

With the rumbling of the "second wave" of B2B e-commerce, it's clear that the romantic notion of the hacker with the heart of gold has been replaced with the reality of the damage that is done.

Today's "hackers" (I feel silly using that word, because they are anything but) are organized and sophisticated. Conferences, such as DefCon VII in Las Vegas, draw thousands each year. There are even journals and papers dedicated to the hacker ... and, of course, Web sites.

One of the most infamous hackers, Kevin Mitnick, was recently released from prison after serving almost four years for hacking the home computer of Tsutomu Shimomura, a noted security expert at San Diego's Supercomputing Center, as well as many commercial sites, including Sun Microsystems.

It's a wild ride out there, with peril at every bend. For despite the push from the suits, the process and management of e-initiatives should remain controlled by the sneakers and t-shirts. In other words, in the haste to e-ify itself, corporations must look at the rules that have guided IT success for decades - simple security practices from not e-mailing passwords cross country or assigning generic, or name-based passwords to building firewalls to prepare for attacks from the super hackers. And internal IT had better position itself to be a provider and co-driver of a reliable and secure infrastructure or they will find themselves outsourced on their ears.

So fasten your seat belt and tighten the bolts, because this is "the best part!" Right?