Manufacturers Collaborate With Partners via Non-Secure Channels

Oct 30, 2007 2:55 PM

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High-tech manufacturing firms not only are collaborating with value chain partners through non-secure communications tools, such as Web e-mail and personal instant messaging, they also have serious concerns about the potential for loss of intellectual property, reports a new survey from Microsoft Corp.

The Microsoft Collaboration in High-Tech Manufacturing Survey 2007, conducted by Washington, D.C.-based KRC Research and commissioned by Microsoft, found that 78 percent of business decision-makers (BDMs, such as directors of supply chain) and 85 percent of technology decision-makers (TDMs, such as chief intelligence officers and IT managers) at high-tech firms reported they had used at least one of a number of non-secure public communications tools to collaborate with partners. More importantly, the survey found that product plans, technical data and other proprietary information were sent using those tools.

"Our hope is that this survey shines a light on a problem that has been plaguing the industry for years," says Tyler Bryson, general manager of the U.S. Manufacturing Industry Group at Microsoft. "The use of non-secure communications tools is staggering, and high-tech firms are struggling to find ways to communicate with value chain partners more quickly and effectively, without compromising valuable intellectual property and other sensitive data."

Despite the wide use of public communications tools, representatives at very few high-tech manufacturing firms surveyed said they believe that they are safe for transferring proprietary data. In fact, only 27 percent of BDMs and 37 percent of TDMs surveyed who used those tools considered them to be "definitely" secure. Similarly, the majority of users reported that they are concerned about their staff using these tools to communicate confidential or sensitive information outside the company (58 percent and 72 percent of BDMs and TDMs, respectively).

In effort to tackle the problem, 88 percent of BDMs and 92 percent of TDMs report that the ability to manage users' access rights to sensitive documents such as product plans and contract details would be or currently is valuable to their companies. In addition, the ability to encrypt e-mail and/or IM between their company and suppliers was also reported to be valuable to 68 percent of BDMs and 74 percent of TDMs in the survey.

Other key findings included the following:

* Ninety-five percent of BDMs and 99 percent of TDMs say their organizations use e-mail to collaborate with business partners, vendors and suppliers. In fact, 53 percent of BDMs and 72 percent of TDMs report that e-mail is the primary tool for collaboration for their department or company.

* In terms of non-company communications tools, employees use public e-mail systems (30 percent of BDMs, 43 percent of TDMs), personal FTP tools (29 percent of BDMs, 47 percent of TDMs), Internet-based faxing (32 percent of BDMs, 38 percent of TDMs) and personal IM (25 percent of BDMs, 33 percent of TDMs).

* For those that use these publicly available tools, employees reported communicating proprietary information such as pricing or financial data (55 percent of BDMs, 51 percent of TDMs) and contracts and legal agreements (49 percent of BDMs, 53 percent of TDMs).

The Microsoft Collaboration in High-Tech Manufacturing Survey 2007 was conducted via telephone by KRC Research from Sept. 23 to Oct. 12, 2007, and included responses from 200 BDMs and TDMs at and above the manager level within high-tech manufacturing companies with revenue of at least $150 million and 500 employees. Full survey results are available at

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