Paula Long is CEO and Co-founder of DataGravity.
In life and in business, you are generally more successful when you have friends. You are able to share the load, bounce ideas off each other, and have each others’ backs, if you will. The goal is that the sum of the parts is greater than indicated by the math.
Companies that are trying to address large problems will find it lonely if they don’t surround themselves with an ecosystem, the technology equivalent of friends, to fill in the gaps.
The idea of an ecosystem isn’t new – it’s a core reason most industries exist. Ecosystems in the technology space succeed for some of the same reasons most of us tend to have a higher score when we play “best ball” in golf, compared to playing solo. For example, there may be a woman who can drive the ball down the fairway, another guy that chips it onto the green, another guy who is a whiz with the putter, and then there’s me – the designated golf cart driver. In tech, when vendors, partners, customers, and thought leaders collaborate, they can set higher standards for innovation and push the limits with the solutions they create.
If you’ve attended an RSA Conference in the last few years, one of the consistent themes is that the good guys aren’t winning. This is partly because the data security ecosystem is still immature. You see some amazing point solutions and a feature-rich API, but most of them don’t work together in ways that maximize data protection.
To achieve the goal of protecting sensitive data, IT and security teams need to join forces and support ecosystem growth. Doing so is simple, as the requirements for any successful ecosystem can be broken into four Cs: companies, customers, cooperation, and a commitment to industry standards.
Companies That Build the Ecosystem’s Foundation
Some of the biggest names in tech aren’t just companies; they’re forces of nature, thanks to their ecosystems. VMware dominates virtualization to the point where it’s nearly impossible to launch a successful data center business without supporting its technologies and leveraging its resources in the process. Amazon Web Services continues to lead the public cloud space by a landslide, and has helped launch a new generation of SaaS applications and third-party services that accomplish specific goals while furthering Amazon’s growth. The data security ecosystem is still growing, but the example set by these tech giants remains clear – when an ecosystem exists in an industry, startups can join it or prepare to fail.
Customers That Drive Ecosystem Growth
Smart companies listen to their customers. As a customer, one of the most straightforward ways to support integrations and ecosystem harmony is to seek it from the vendors you’re already working with. If a security solution applies to certain areas of your IT infrastructure but leaves others unprotected, it could leave sensitive data exposed.
Don’t settle for an incomplete scope of protection. Instead, bring the issue to your solution providers – vendors can then turn such requests into plans to integrate with new solutions and technologies. Next-generation firewall vendors, such as Palo Alto Networks and Cisco, have created a set of APIs so that other IT infrastructure appliances can provide insights into what they’re seeing in the network, and consume input from other devices that make them smarter. Additionally, most security insights feed into some form of security information and event management (SIEM) solution, which collects threat information. Next-generation SIEM systems can not only report incidents, but defend against them, furthering the solution’s ability to improve security and support ecosystem growth.
Cooperation With Security and IT in Mind
Vendor lock-in doesn’t do any favors for end users; and in an ecosystem-driven industry, it harms vendors, too. In the IT ecosystem, companies don’t build single-use products and businesses anymore. Anything they create and provide is part of the market’s bigger picture, and innovation will never be possible if every company is only thinking of itself. Vendors need to offer solutions that avoid locking customers in. By using open APIs and cooperating with other companies, IT and security providers can better serve their customers while positioning their organizations for future growth.
Commitment to High Standards Between Customers, Vendors and Partners
One downside to a major ecosystem is that it’s easy to wake up and find too many cooks in your kitchen. When 10 different companies come together and provide a complete end-to-end solution, it’s important that all of them uphold the same standard of quality in terms of service levels, technology, integrations and more. If one company in an ecosystem isn’t holding up its end of the deal, it risks bringing down other companies in its space.
Not every industry is meant to have an ecosystem. Compliance regulations or other restrictions could stand in the way, or some core technologies within the space may lag behind the development curve. However, this isn’t a factor when it comes to the data security landscape. There are a lot of opportunities.
Data security events can cause smaller companies to fail, and larger companies to lose millions of dollars and reputations. Worse, security incidents can put customers, who entrusted these companies, at risk. When the security ecosystem reflects the urgency of every company’s need to protect sensitive data; and vendors, customers and partners in the space commit to getting educated about threats and building solutions that can work together, they can lead the way to a more communicative, collaborative future.
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