Race Cars, Wi-Fi & Mobile Security

I think that one thing we engineers tend to get enamored of is that the advance of technology is a thing that is crucial to the success of a company. This is understandable in that for us, keeping up with technology is crucial to our jobs. We need to have a deep understanding of what the technology is we specialize in and how it affects the client we work with in order to be able to define the usefulness of that technology to our customers.

The larger view is that technology is just one part, a crucial one, but just a part nonetheless, of making a successful company.As I advanced in my career in technology one thing I always found curious is that most of the very intelligent and capable engineers I worked with didn’t realize that most of their jobs were not about the technology they deployed. Not about if the present amazing thing they liked was better than someone else’s or if their depth of knowledge in a particular thing was something that made them more valuable and capable than anyone else in their department. I recognized that being in the IT industry was about constant change but that the most crucial aspect of that change was that we as engineers facilitated others to be able to use and leverage technology to improve the business. In short, it wasn’t about us, it was about the relationships we had with our customers. Be it that those customers were internal to the company or external. Being good at relating to others and enabling them to understand and use technology to facilitate what they need to accomplish is what has lead me to success in the IT field. I knew as I went along that the particular technology I was good at for that particular time period was just not as important as the connections I had with the people I worked with.

Expanding to a larger view of working in the Wi-FI field brings some interesting observations. Wireless technologies have been around for a long time and have steadily impacted businesses more and more. Companies have come and gone, some utilizing proprietary RF and recently more and more realizing the value of being more open and standards based in expanding the use of wireless for companies. I find it interesting that the single largest driver of Wi-Fi usage in recent years was not a new faster standard (802.11n) but the introduction of a set of mobile devices that were squarely aimed at making mobile computing easy for the average person to use. There were of course some basic things that needed to be sorted out by the standards bodies in getting there. First, because of a flawed security protocol (WEP), there was a need to introduce strong and robust security protocols to give our customers assurances that Wi-Fi could be implemented securely. Second was the need to improve the capacity of the wireless infrastructure to be able to support a large number of very mobile devices. Ok, thats some basics checked off, now we are ready for the customers and businesses that will drive the use of that wireless spectrum that is available. However, to use an analogy, just because we have built a high performing race car, doesn’t mean we are going to automatically win the race. What matters most is the users of our technology and how we enable them to be more productive and how we help them leverage Wi-Fi to improve their business.

This is in part why the whole BYOD impact is so exciting to me. This concept has moved the discussion with customers from being focused on higher speeds and how to secure their wireless networks to what the devices are that are on their networks and how to enable them to use Wi-Fi efficiently to improve their business. Today it is taken for granted by most customers I talk to that it is possible to be both secure and for devices to perform as well as they do on wired networks. What they now want to know is how they can either a) identify who is using these devices so they can manage their impact to their business and/or b) identify what company data is on the devices so they can manage who is able to use that data. This to me is really where the discussion should be, squarely focused not on how amazing the latest tablet or mobile device is, but on how we can help our customers to find the best use of this technology for their needs.

I still think that a deep technical understanding of Wi-Fi is important to have, but my reason for that is so I can better understand how to leverage the technology for my customers. I now am going to add to this the understanding of the mobile devices being used on the wireless networks and their peculiarities in how they operate. What I see right now is that I must move my understanding of mobile technologies with my customers, to what they are most concerned about, so that I can enable their understanding of how mobility impacts their businesses. This makes me inclined to expand my definition of what I do from being a wireless security expert to being a mobile security expert. In moving with my customers needs and in helping them to bridge the gap that has been created by the introduction of a large number of very mobile devices in their businesses I can better understand what I need to know to be useful and relevant. This to me is the essence of not focusing on how to keep up with technology for the technologies sake, which I see as a keeping up with the Jones’s viewpoint, but of focusing squarely on how I can facilitate the use of technology to improve the business of my customers.

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