Breaking through the small business glass ceiling
Peter Ross, Director, On Demand Solutions
How many fantastic small companies are hitting a glass ceiling? Fear of overextending is constraining the expansion of some great business ideas into a broader market. The business challenges are the same: A small distribution or wholesale organisation faces the same challenges and business needs as larger competitors - from real-time performance information and integrated e-commerce to just in time stock management and mobile workers.
Yet most organisations face the unpalatable choice: stay small with current technology or risk the business on a major investment to access the technology and innovation required to take the next step.
There are many challenges to starting a new business, but today technology is not one of them. Entry level finance, customer relationship management, even web sites are accessible and affordable.
It is 18 months down the line, however, when the business is expanding and it needs to take the next step that the problems arise. Extending the functionality of the web site to offer true e-commerce; creating a fully integrated solution to provide end to end visibility and streamline processes; achieving real-time reporting – to acquire this level of technology solution will cost upwards of £150,000. Few organisations can justify that sort of budget.
Yet since entry level solutions are inadequate to support a growing business, it cannot expand. Not only do these systems lack functionality, any organisation reliant upon different CRM, warehousing, finance and e-commerce systems will struggle to scale effectively.
So how can a small business compete against large organisations with large IT budgets? The key is to fight back against the constraints of current IT pricing models.
Right now the IT industry is dictating the terms. Organisations have little choice but to gradually – and expensively – work their way up through a tier of solutions, finally attaining the functionality and features of the enterprise class solution. The only alternative is to take the risk of opting for multiple different solutions and embarking upon expensive and time consuming integration in the hope of achieving some kind of end-to-end solution as a result.
Either approach is fundamentally flawed. Enterprise class features are as relevant to the smaller organisation as the large; but the pricing model means that they are out of reach to all but the largest companies.
How can the small or medium sized distributor deliver not only web based ordering 24/7 but attain a fully integrated e-commerce system that provides real-time stock information and a choice of delivery options? Or ensure the solution can automatically provide each customer with customised pricing based on both contracts and manufacturer promotions?
Breaking the Chain
It is time for the small business to take a different approach. Rather than waste money on incrementally stepping up through a range of IT solutions they should go enterprise class from day one. There is no need to delay expansion due to technology limitations: the same solution should scale from one to thousands of users, have the functionality to enable the business to operate effectively, adopt streamlined processes and embrace innovation.
With access to the right technology, agile smaller businesses should and could have an edge. The key is to gain access to that enterprise class solution and avoid being fobbed off with inadequate and disconnected entry level options that the industry deems worthy of the smaller business. With a fully functional solution from day one, the glass ceiling is removed. Finally, business growth is dependent upon market opportunities and economic viability – not the vagaries of IT vendor strategies.
Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity
As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas.
High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks
According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’.
Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months:
- SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack.
- Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors.
- Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration.
As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework.
What Are Their Recommendations?
Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security.
Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version:
- NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
- Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state.
If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed.
How Do The Proposals Differ?
As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’.