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Beta Wars: Part I { The IRM Perspective}

There is a widely single sided debate going on the tech blogosphere regarding "brand dilution of Beta".
http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2004/12/fresh_outta_def.html
http://napsterization.org/stories/archives/000374.html

True techies are increasingly finding the (mis)use of the term 'Beta' objectionable. For the uninitiated - Beta is a term used for a 'pre-release' version of any software and most of the 'cool' Web 2.0 applications from GMail to Flickr started out as Betas. If software was an Indian Children's game 'Beta' would mean 'Kachhi Goti' :-P or 'Trial Over'.

But the bone of contention is that most of these startups (some of which are now owned by major companies or themselves are big companies) are perpetually in Beta. For the techies who were groomed in the era of Desktop Suites and Mainframes (where stable release and quality control were critical), this means telling customers that you're not really committed to rolling out a finished product.

Most techies have been blaming Marketing Executives for this claiming that they have misused the technical term as a branding strategy so that suddenly 'Beta' is akin to 'cool'. One camp argues this has diluted the meaning of the term Beta for users while another argues that it has made product managers and software companies transfer 'liability' of software usage to the customer.

As an Information Risk consultant this debate is intriguing and quite interesting. The questions I ponder upon are - will the corporate world accept Beta products? If not, do these Beta products it really increase risk to information? And if some corporate data gets into these 'Beta' products what would be the implications?

The first point is that the corporate sector will NOT accept Beta products even if users embrace them. The cardinal rule in the corporate world to 'induct' any new software into 'production' is to test it for data protection - namely data availability (loosely protection against crashes that would make you loose the data), data confidentiality (loosely protection against unauthorised access of data) and data integrity (loosely protection against virus / worm attacks).

Unless organizations are ensured that these 3 aspects are taken care of - they will not induct the application into its fold. Having said that some of the latest 'web-based' tools that are being developed in house by many corporates are even more buggy and 'Beta' than the popular online tools.

However, what we are missing is that all these tools belong to the presentation layer (not strictly as per OSI Model - but figuratively) and none of them actually determine the protection standards of data. Data utilized in these tools still resides in tried and tested database tools which are hosted on reliable and secure hardware platforms which are further managed by a robust practices and procedures in the organization. [This is not entirely true as access control affects data confidentiality and is usually determined by the web based interface. This, as per me, is already a major pain area for companies.]

This brings us to the answer of the other two questions - taken in isolation and used as it is many of these products are prone to data security flaws. For example if a corporate user uses GMail then the fact that GMail is in Beta makes him loose the guarantee that his emails will be protected in case of a server crash at Google.
[I do not mean that GMail servers are not backed up - but the fact that Google does not have a liability towards its users to protect its data. So while your emails are being backed up - but there's no SLA to ensure that it happens.]

But as has been mentioned above, most corporate systems do not rely on external measures for their data protection. They usually would manage their infrastructure themselves. Thus if a corporate chooses to use GMail interface, it would still prefer to store its emails on its own servers which it would back up itself. Thus in case GMail malfunctions - the data still remains protected on its servers.

However, coming to marketing aspects - it remains to be seen whether 'Beta' the cool brand among teenagers can become a selling point among corporates as well.

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