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Good Names Gone Bad

Plus, keeping intellectual property out of the wrong hands; building a better employee, or at least knowing which one speaks French; good-bye surfboard, hello speargun.
Scott Leibs, CFO IT
October 15, 2002

Identity Theft: Good Names Gone Bad

How can you be sure your customers are who they say they are? Last year, fraud cost the financial-services industry $35 billion as credit was granted to people who looked good on paper because they were pretending to be someone else. Plucking a credit card from another person's mailbox is a time-honored way to indulge in such criminality, of course, but today the Internet makes "identity theft" even easier. By grabbing such personal information as Social Security and driver's license numbers from poorly protected data-bases, thieves can wreak substantial havoc.

Companies are fighting back, and they're enlisting technology to help. Credit bureau and reporting service Experian created the National Fraud Database (NFD) in 2000 and promptly signed on some big players, including American Express, Toyota, and Dell Financial Services. The NFD is essentially a repository of bad deals; members relay information about fraudulent credit applications so that other members don't make the same mistakes. Experian says a recent analysis of the service showed credit applications that matched fraudulent ones contained in the NFD were 7 to 12 times more likely to be frauds.

"Today we make credit decisions instantly," says Roger Kidwell, senior director at Dell Financial Services, "and when done via the Internet it's a faceless transaction, so we need to leverage technology to help us weed out people engaged in ID theft." Lyn Porter, vice president of fraud solutions at Experian, says it's difficult to assess how much of today's fraud can be laid at the door of the Internet, but anecdotal evidence suggests that ID theft has risen dramatically in the past few years, in tandem with increased Internet use. The Federal Trade Commission says the number of weekly calls to its Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse has risen from 445 in November 1999, when it was launched, to 3,000 as of last December.

Log Off My Property

Firewalls and other technologies can keep data physically safe, but what happens when a person who has certain rights to information takes additional liberties? Digital rights management (DRM) software, described by one analyst as "hiding on the fringes of IT," may be about to go mainstream. DRM's primary purpose is to keep digital content, particularly intellectual property, from being illegally copied, forwarded, or otherwise abused. It's a big issue in the music and movie businesses, of course, but all companies have spreadsheets, business plans, and other data they need to share--but only to a point. DRM uses various techniques to limit copying and forwarding and even to "recall" access privileges after a specified time. Frost & Sullivan analyst Jarad Carleton predicts double-digit growth for DRM through the rest of the decade.

Market Intelligence: Greatest Hits

Who wouldn't want a way to sift through reams of information looking for something that's actually useful? Search engines are constantly improving, of course, and Business.com, famed for the record-setting multimillion-dollar price it paid for its URL, offers a business-oriented portal used by 12 million people each month. A company called OneSource offers a subscription-based service called Business Browser that aggregates information from 2,500 sources and parses it based on user needs. A sales force, for example, might use the "track watchlists" feature to monitor news reports on prospects or competitors, while a business analyst might use the "profile company" feature to look at a range of data on a specific company. Vander Kaay & Associates Inc., an M&A specialist, uses Business Browser to help clients find viable acquisition candidates, while staffing firm Administaff uses it to identify key decision-makers at prospective client companies. Given that a Google' search for the phrase "information overload" returns 137,000 hits, anything that shortens the distance between question and answer would seem a likely hit in its own right.

Brain Gain

Wall street firms have been hiring "rocket scientists" for years, but in addition to those ace stock pickers, they need all sorts of other employees to be the best and brightest they can be. Merrill Lynch turned to a human-resources application from Softscape called AchievementPlus to create a "talent pipeline" across the entire company.

Linda Murphy, the company's director of performance management, says that before the software was installed, managers used spreadsheets to keep notes on employees within their units, but they had no way of knowing if an employee located elsewhere in the company might be a perfect fit for an available position. That even held true at the high end: "We'd look at the org chart and try to identify people to fill the boxes," says Murphy, "but that's not the same as developing a truly deep bench across the company."

The Softscape product suite lets Merrill's HR department assess gaps in training or work experience (a self-service option enables employees to enter data about themselves so that their profiles remain current), do what-if analysis (for example: What happens if Jane becomes a vice president in a different division?), and generally assess and groom employees for great things. Some of them, anyway.




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