Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Loose lips sink ships

This is not a business intelligence post per se as it does not relate to BI software. But it is about business intelligence in the literal sense, so I can kind of still make the case for posting it on this blog :-)

This article appeared in C|Net today - "Nightmare on the 'nerd bird' flight", by Roger L. Kay, on how loose lips can literally sink ships (companies). An example provided illustrates the point, quite starkly. Here is part of the article:
A senior technical manager from a semiconductor manufacturer was traveling between San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas, when he began to overhear a man sitting across the aisle talking to a woman in the seat in front of him. The listener's ears pricked up when he realized that the man mouthing off was working for a direct competitor and was jabbering freely about issues that he was facing in launching a new product.

At the end of an hour, the man listening quietly knew his competitor's price, the bugs in its chip, and who the product's first (and, more importantly, anchor) customer was.

As he got up to deplane, he was recognized by a woman who had been seated behind him. She said hello and asked him whether he was still with the same company. When he replied yes, the man across the aisle shot him a look. The unlucky guy knew that he had made a major mistake. But it was too late.

As soon as he was off the plane, the accidental spy called his salesman, giving him the details. His company not only won the business by undercutting the competitor's price and pointing out where the flaws in its product were, but because this customer was pivotal for winning more business, the other company was never able to launch its product properly, and within a year it had closed its doors. That anchor customer was supposed to be the reference for subsequent customers.
I don' want to be judgmental or harsh, but really, it would take a genius of sorts to blabber so much, for so long, and so indiscreetly, and that too on airplane! Of course he seemed distinctly unlucky to find himself seated next to a persevering employee from a competitor.

Anyway, the writer uses the phrase 'nerd-bird' to describe 'any direct flight between two locations infested with high-tech companies.' Examples would be San Jose-Seattle, Seattle-Boston, etc... I can imagine that any international flight leaving Bangalore is more than likely to be occupied mostly by software professionals. On my last flight to Boston, I found myself sitting next to an executive from HP, all the way from Bangalore to Frankfurt and then on to Boston.

And speaking of privacy, I am reminded of a customer that wanted to turn off exporting functionality for its Viewer users. That's quite easily done, by customizing the Viewer layout in the App Server Control. Furthermore, the customer actually had software installed on all client machines to prevent even copying of text using your standard Ctrl+C functionality. I don't quite know if that would be an extreme example, but I can understand the need for companies to balance the seemingly contradictory goals of providing more information to their users yet still find a way to protect that information.