Web 2.0 and innovation -- the enterprise strikes back

Vertical search gets a welcome boost from a company you may not have heard of

Who says all IT innovation has to come from Silicon Valley? I don’t want to be accused of Google-bashing, but I admit that when I stumbled onto FidelityLabs the other day, I almost jumped for joy.

Lately the buzz in deep thinker circles is that IT innovation now comes from consumer companies, and flows one-way into the enterprise (AJAX, for one). The ultimate poster child for so-called Web 2.0 innovation, Google is seen as a bottomless well of invention, teeming with young smart engineers working in a super entrepreneurial environment involved with cutting edge stuff. Like the old Bell Labs or the space programs of the pre-boomer generation, but without the crew cuts.

So why with all that firepower, couldn’t Google come up with vertical search -- search that does a better job of finding results in a given domain because some human know-how’s been applied to limit the results set? My guess: It’s too boring compared with all the other fun things Google’s been doing. But in any case, good old Fidelity Investments beat them to it.

That’s right. Staid, patrician, blue blood Boston-based Fidelity run by a 74-year-old guy named Ned, now has a FidelityLabs skunk works, which has come up with a “financial search” beta that lets you search only financial Web sites. Try plugging the word “spider” (a popular new type of Exchange-Traded Fund) into both Fidelity search and Google to see the difference.

So put another notch in the bedpost for those slow-moving enterprises … add Fidelity to FedEx (innovator in IT-driven logistics), Dell (IT-driven supply chain), Wal-Mart (POS data and RFID) and a few others and suddenly -- watch out, Larry and Sergei -- we have a cogent counterargument to the Web 2.0 hype machine. Well, maybe.

Something you have, something you know: I spent a couple of days walking the floor of the RSA Security conference last week, and was struck by several things: 1) All the vendors are selling or promising the same bundles of functionality (anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-spyware, and so on), and customers are starting to smell commoditization; 2) the gulf between endpoint security people and network security people couldn’t be wider; and 3) authentication seemed to be the hot topic this year, but at least on the consumer side, enterprises are leaning toward the lowest impact, lowest hassle, and probably least secure solutions.

Gartner, in a recent report about VeriSign’s proposed “VIP” token authentication network, hit the nail on the head: “This will mean little until PayPal or eBay starts issuing OTP tokens.” Although there are all kinds of ways that soft or hard tokens could get into consumers’ hands (or ideally on their cell phones), banks seem averse to them because they’re too expensive (both distribution and support) and disruptive. Consensus on the show floor was that financial institutions will simply add a “challenge and response” layer to the current user-id and password regime in order to meet upcoming regulatory requirements for deploying “two factor authentication.”

For example (upon log-in): Authentication Gateway: “What is your name?” User: “Arthur, King of the Britons.” Gateway: “What is your quest?” User: “To seek the Holy Grail.” Gateway: “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” User: “African or European swallow?”

Hang on to those passwords, folks.

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