Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

Mine the Past for IT Thought Leadership

We often think thought leadership requires uncovering some fundamental new truth about the universe, proving it is correct, and showing how to get there. That’s a heavy lift, and it’s not always possible – or even necessary.

Sometimes, just having been around the industry, seeing a thing or two, and applying that historic perspective to a new issue is enough. For evidence, see this recent blog post by aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia expressing his skepticism about the much-hyped emerging technology of very light aircraft and air taxis.

His piece looks not forward but back, to the early 2000s, and the death of an earlier generation of companies trying to make air travel easier and less expensive through, among other things, very small jets available for rent. He used his  experience to list six reasons the current very light/very small “air mobility” market will collapse. They range from investors ignoring the high capital costs of the aircraft to a lack of serious engineering work to the human tendency to believe hype – all illustrated with detailed examples.

The lesson for IT marketers: Having been around and seeing several technology hype cycles gives your senior developers or executives the potential to develop compelling thought leadership. To do so, they need to look beyond the shiny surface of today’s tech toys for deeper trends and hard-learned lessons.

Several examples of how this could look like:

  • Data Lakehouses: The latest magic pill for our data woes? Look back on the history of traditional databases, data marts, data warehouses, and  data lakes and why each failed to solve the perennial challenges of scale, cost, speed and data quality. What similar questions should we be asking about data lakehouses that we are not, and how should that affect product development, customer purchase choices and marketing?
  • Security: The problem that keeps sucking up more money but never seems to get better. We’ve moved from firewalls to securing APIs, from whitelist-based antivirus to AI-enabled behavior analysis, and from descriptive to predictive to prescriptive security and zero trust security. But there always seems to be new threats around the corner, and security managers struggle for budget in part because previous magic bullets failed. What questions should we be asking, but are not, about the latest and greatest security approaches? What new approaches should be consider, such as considering security spending like insurance premiums – a cost of doing business that mitigates, rather than eliminates, risk?
  • Cloud Everything: Once upon a time centralized IT was in, with most data processing going through a mainframe. Then decentralized-client server was the rage. Now, the big cloud hyperscalers provide central sources of compute, storage and networking and are the default choice for many  workloads. Based on our lessons with previous computing models, what are the hidden weaknesses (from cost to security to vendor lockin to compliance) we’re missing in the move to cloud? When and why should companies consider keeping some internal IT capabilities?
  • Edge computing: This refers to the growth of processing and storage capabilities close to the edge of the network, quickly analyzing and acting on data from sensors, factory devices and vehicles. An industry veteran could look back at the spread of department-level local area networks in the 1980s for hard lessons about the need for standards, policies governing data sharing among groups,  proper security and for making sure local “edge” infrastructure doesn’t  become a hidden, unproductive drag on budgets. The technology may change, but the impulse to avoid slow, stodgy central IT to solve a pressing problem hasn’t. Nor have the problems of uncontrolled, local technology deployment.

Begin your quest for backward-looking thought leadership by asking your most experienced team members which recurrent problems or patterns they see, either in the underlying technology or business’ use of it. Then ask them to draw two or three hard-learned lessons from the past and apply them to the present.

They don’t have to be 100 % right in every one of your criticisms (or praise) of a technology or a business trend or their predictions. They just need a reasonable observation, connection, or question no one else has found. Getting the reader thinking alone new lines is real, and valuable, thought leadership in and of itself.

create effective pitch deckOf the hundreds of pitch decks I’ve seen as a trade press editor, too many left me waiting until slide 26 for a clue about the company’s value proposition, or even a clear description of their product or service. That’s because their creators were too focused on their own approach to the market, and too little on what the reader needs to know.

Here are five ways to focus your decks on each class of reader so you’re sure they’ve gotten your message.

Tune the Problem Statement

Except where the reader (such as an investor) is truly new to a field, summarize the problem statement quickly and move on. Don’t make a chief information security officer sit through a list of headlines about recent breaches,  or a development manager listen to statistics about software failure rates. Instead, describe the three to five specific pain points you do the best job of solving. (In security, for example, it might in the range of threats you track. In development, it might be the speed or quality of your testing.) Then quickly move on to how you solve these problems. But as you do…

Differentiate Constantly

Too often, what passes for differentiation is a generic statement of end results (“We deliver true enterprise-wide protection against the threats facing your business.”) Instead, explain clearly and consistently what makes you different and better than the competitors. Insist that the notes section of every slide include at least one sentence beginning with the words “Unlike our competitors…”  and don’t rest until you can finish that sentence in a clear, convincing way. If any of your capabilities are “me-toos” acknowledge that and explain how you focused your development efforts on excelling in the areas customers care the most about.

Customize More Carefully

You probably already have variations of your deck for customers, for analysts/media, and  for investors. But from what I’ve seen these decks are often not fine-tuned closely enough, or provide the required level of detail,  for each audience.

For example:

  • Customers probably need far more specifics about pricing and delivery/bundling options than analysts/media or investors.
  • Analysts/media, on the other hand, probably want more of a focus on your competitive positioning and the details of how you achieve it. The more quickly you can get them to that place, the sooner you can begin explaining in detail where you excel.
  • Investors need far more detail about the founder’s backgrounds, long-term product, partnership and IPO plans than other audiences need – or that you want to share. They’ll also need more information about other funders and how much control they have over hiring or product decisions.
  • Along with the same competitive positioning and technical background as analysts, media outlets need good quotes and snappy descriptions of your product, service or differentiation.

Context, context, context!

You know how big a deal it was to wrangle that vague endorsement from an analyst or the brilliance of your API strategy chart – but the reader doesn’t. To provide the context readers need, avoid:

  • General statements of goodness from analysts that describe your solution as “comprehensive” or “innovative.” Instead, press them for quotes that describe your differentiation and tie it back to business benefits.
  • “Eye chart” slides describing your technical architecture, integration with other technologies or partners without explaining why the reader should care. .
  • Bare lists of customer logos. Prove these weren’t just proofs of concepts or one-off projects that never resulted in a follow-on sale. Describe the business benefits you delivered to each, and the unique capabilities that helped you deliver them.
  • Bare lists of brand name partners. Show how each partnership is resulting in added sales for you and the partner, and the benefits to your joint customers. If the partnership is too new for results but shows promise, explain that.
  • Headshots and canned bios of your leadership team. Instead, explain how their previous accomplishments will deliver for the target audience. (“XXX’s experience at Apple’s App Store will help us build the critical mass of developers we need with a revenue sharing model that works for them and us.”)

Translate for Mere Mortals

Define and explain every technical term in layman’s terms, even briefly, the first time you use it. Marketers often push back on this and tell me “The people we’re targeting will understand this.” Many will, but some will just nod knowingly without a clue because they don’t want to look dumb in front of others – and they just might be the key decision maker. Use these brief explainers to hammer home the business benefits, (“Our pre built Python libraries include the code required for common analyses of adverse drug reactions. This cuts the time required to build the statistical models our health care clients need by 50 percent…”)

The common challenge here — and it’s a big one — is looking at your pitch deck from the perspective of an outsider who doesn’t live and breath your business strategy every day. If you can’t hire an outside PR firm or marketing agency for a fresh look, run your deck past your most recent hire or freshest intern. If they don’t quickly “get” your message, you’ve got more work to do.

Wrenching Thought Leadership from Tecchies

thought leadership(This post first appeared in Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey (SWMS), which produces research and analysis that helps tech PR pros pitch more effectively. SWMS interviews editors, studies their work and produces research and analysis that helps tech PR pros land coverage and build relationships. Learn more here.

Everyone and their brother seems to be looking for “thought leadership” these days – the unique, thoughtful insights that show you understand the technology you sell and the industry you’re selling into better than anyone else. In a recent Gartner survey close to a third of respondents said “…a form of thought leadership is the single highest driver of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs).”

But how do you extract compelling thought leadership from a technical specialist whose job is to be down in the weeds with the chip registers, whether to use linear regression, logistic regression or linear discriminant analysis in AI, or the ins and outs of Agile Vs. DevOps?

Here are four thought leadership tar pits I fall into with clients and tools I use to get out.

Morass One: “What do you mean by thought leadership?”

It’s not fair to ask a technical expert to deliver something you haven’t defined. My thought leadership elevator pitch goes like this:

  • It must present a new way of thinking about an old problem, a new question your customers should be asking, or even just define a problem most people can’t see yet.
  • It must be new thinking about how information technology can meet business challenges. If you’re repeating questions (or answers) the reader can get elsewhere it ain’t thought leadership.
  • It is about your customers and their challenges rather than your products or services. If you must mention your capabilities or customer success stories, limit them to proofs of your new thinking.
  • Even if you don’t have (or don’t want to share) a complete soup to nuts solution, you must explain why your thought leadership vision is plausible.
  • And you must tell the reader how to get started realizing this vision.

Morass Two: The Spec Sheet Syndrome  

You ask a product manager for thought leadership and get one – or worse, two or three – PowerPoints filled with product details (support for all leading hyperscalers, internal benchmarks like how many Tbytes of data they moved to the cloud, or vague benefit statements like “Increased efficiency and reduced data pipeline TCO.”

I counter with questions such as:

  • What is better, different, less expensive, more flexible about your tools or capabilities vs. your competitors?
  • How did these technical features or process frameworks increase the scale, efficiency, quality or agility with which the customer met their business challenge?
  • What lessons did you learn that others can use, regardless of the technology involved? (Push beyond technical details (“We used X sharding method for the database”) to business-relevant lessons (“We asked the sales teams what 20 percent of the data would produce 80 percent of the benefits and migrated that data first.”)
  • Push the customer engagement team or the customer to quantify the business benefits. You may not get specific figures, but you can probably find a safe range like “millions of dollars in savings” or “…at least 20 percent increase in customer satisfaction.”

Morass Three: Actually, All We Have is This Case Study…

The symptoms are similar to Morass #2 except your subject matter expert can tell you only about their use of one product or service for a one customer for a specific need. However spiffy the solution and how pleased the customer, this is a single success – not thought leadership for achieving repeated success.

I ask questions such as:

  • What makes this customer’s challenge, and our response to it, typical of a broader trend? For example, the need to effectively merge CRM systems after an acquisition, for pharmaceutical companies to use AI to speed drug development, or to migrate a legacy development team to DevOps?
  • What techniques, lessons or “tricks” did we learn in this engagement or deployment that could help others in the same boat? (Bonus points for lessons that are not specific to your product or service.) For example, rather than “Our machine learning platform helped us integrate more data types than anyone else,” you want something like “We started small and defined the business problem up front to keep us on track.”

Morass Four: We See the Problem But Don’t Have a Solution

Symptoms include statements like “We’re planning to address that in a future release,” “Everyone’s waiting for guidance from the regulators” or “We hope to fix that with our acquisition of vendor XYZ.”

Questions to dive deeper:

  • Even if we don’t have the “holy grail” answer, can we describe the problem in enough detail to hint at some answers? (“Five top reasons security is chronically underfunded and what our customers need to free up budget.”)
  • Explain why the common framing of a problem is wrong. “Struggling with scaling your machine learning project? That’s because they work best when they stay small and nimble.”
  • If you can’t answer one question, answer another that presents new thinking. For example, there’s plenty of back and forth about the best ways to deploy DevOps (the merger of development and operations teams.) Configuration management vendor Puppet took a different tack, citing survey results to argue that the term “DevOps” itself is too vague, and that more function-specific terms (such as DevOps for system administration or application development) delivers better business results.

Rinse and Repeat…and Repeat…

I wish I could say these tips will instantly unlock the gates of earth-shaking technology and market insights. Be ready to instead patiently explain all this multiple times to the same players in the same project before their eyes light up and they get it.

The good news is they often appreciate the extra effort you put in to bring the good stuff they know to market. As a PR or marketing person, this exercise also lifts you above the run of the mill hacks willing to happily repeddle the latest buzzwords. You are providing, if you will, thought leadership about thought leadership.

(What’s your secret sauce for extracting thought leadership from your best and brightest?)

Three Post Covid (?) Cloud Marketing Tips    

cloud marketing challengesAs we bob between COVID waves, many cloud marketers are trying to figure out how to reach prospects in an ever less predictable business climate. Differentiation is difficult with everyone playing a variation on themes such as:

  • Pandemic lockdowns have sped a shift to remote working and the “digitization” (whatever that means) of business.
  • The cloud is now the default choice for most new applications and workloads.
  • Most businesses are already running on multiple public and private clouds.

Beneath these “me-too” messages are questions which, if you can answer them, can raise your visibility and show clients you deserve their consideration. Three examples:

1) Managing the Cloud Right

Running apps and infrastructure in the cloud is less expensive than in those outmoded internal data centers – until it’s not.  It’s too easy for business units to quickly spin up cloud instances to support new applications, processes and AI experiments but fail to shut them down when they’re no longer needed. That  can be not only hugely expensive but risky if the cloud servers and data aren’t properly secured.

Your opportunity: Describe not only the best tools for finding, assessing and disabling unneeded cloud resources, but the messy political and process changes such control requires. Who gets to decide, for example, when a machine learning model has generated most of the insights it can and no longer deserves funding? How should you adjust IT cost chargeback processes when shifting from internally controlled data centers to internal and external clouds? How can businesses cost-affordably track the complex pricing methodologies of multiple cloud providers?

2) Keeping My Best People

Whatever it is that’s tempting folks to jump jobs post-COVID, it’s hitting IT companies hard. I’m hearing of attrition rates in the 30-40 percent range, with a hot job market giving IT and marketing professionals the freedom to jump ship if they’re not happy about anything from pay to their boss or their job satisfaction.

Your opportunity: Be brave enough to share candid, “in the trenches” experiences and tips exploring areas such as:

How many people are leaving not just for more pay but for better working conditions, more interesting work or even a more ethical corporate mission? What can their managers do to keep them on board even if (as is usually the case) that manager can only control their immediate work environment?

What are the warning signs top contributors are getting ready to jump ship? Is it their ominous silence in meetings, rolling their eyes when a pet project is delayed (yet again) due to conflicting corporate priorities, or they’re repeatedly pointing out how often competitors are executing on ideas they had suggested to you?

After you use these danger signs to identify the “flight risks” how do you keep those employees on board without going broke with pay raises? For example: Ensuring top talent knows their manager lobbied for funding for their pet projects; improved communication about the status of stalled projects; or retraining for employees or the problem managers who have driven many employees away. 

3)  Managing Cloud Vendor Lock

For years customers have tried to balance the advantages of “best of breed” technology from individual vendors against the financial and technical risks of being locked into that vendor’s product and upgrade cycles. Some argue the financial clout and technical breadth of the major hyperscalers make this question irrelevant. According to this thinking, the top players are all “close enough” in areas like AI, containerization and development tools  that you can safely place a strategic bet on one and reap the benefit of economies of scale and easier cost tracking.

Your opportunity: There’s plenty of room to argue either way – or even encourage debate. Build  credibility and drive engagement by basing your argument on real world experience with specific technologies and business cases. For example:

  • If you opt for multiple cloud vendors, does the cost and complexity of a single cross-cloud visibility and management platform outweigh the advantages of using multiple clouds?
  • Compare the capabilities of each hyperscaler in a specific technical area (say, AI or quantum computing). This should not be an ad for your preferred partner but an honest comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of each hyperscaler, advising which technical or business use cases they’re best suited for.
  • Do a similar comparison by industries and provide detailed enough advice to show your expertise. Rather than give one hyperscaler a good mark on generic manufacturing, tell the reader which has the best tools for process vs. discrete manufacturing. If you’re talking life sciences, tell the reader which hyperscaler or software as a service provider has the best tools for clinical vs. marketing processes.

What burning questions cloud or pandemic-related issues did I leave out? Building security and compliance into the cloud? Melding DevOps and Agile with cloud deployments? Deciding which legacy apps are too complex, risky or big to deploy to the cloud? And how are you helping clients answer them?

I hope you’re healthy and holding up well in the COVID-19 lockdown and seeing the same demand I’m seeing for COVID-19 product messaging. Having been around the block with a number of such projects, here are nine tips for making such messaging work best.

Go easy on the “We hope you’re safe and the health of our employees and customers” boilerplate. It’s nice to know but we’ve all heard it multiple times. And in the end, this is business, not family.

Don’t hyper ventilate and make every challenge (like the security of home Wi-Fi networks) into a life or death emergency. If there are quick and easy fixes (such as remote configuration of users’ systems) it’s enough to point out this is a good time to implement them.

Don’t “virus wash” every trend. If customers should move to the cloud for better supply chain tracking during the pandemic, this is (as with Wi-Fi___33 security) a continuation of an existing trend, not a revolutionary insight. Skip the breathlessness and describe, in practical and actionable terms, how to achieve this in the unique circumstances of a pandemic.

Don’t publish until you’re sure you’re saying something different and useful.  Review the “state of the art” of COVID-19 messaging in your industry to ensure you’re not repeating well-known statistics and self-evident advice.

Go deep on details when there is a genuine new or more significant risk. One example is relocating workers who deal with very sensitive data from your office to  their homes. What specifically must customers do to secure everything from their internal networks and servers and employees’ home networks?

Be practical. If you’re recommending, for example, employees use headsets for sensitive conversations (so children, roommates or spouses don’t hear both sides of the conversation) do you supply headsets or let employees buy those most comfortable for them? How do you enforce compliance?

Cite real world examples to prove you’re talking to actual customers. Don’t make a vague reference to  “manufacturing supply chain issues. ” instead describe how a lack of a specific buffering compound from a plant in n Wuhan, China, closed an ibuprofen plant in Spain and caused empty shelves in St. Louis.

Describe non-technical challenges specific to the pandemic, such as the difficulty of getting executive attention (and budget) for needed long-term improvements when the business is crashing around them. Then explain how you helped meet the challenge.

Describe the hypothetical success of, for example a data management or AI or collaboration platform that could be useful in the COVID-19 world but that you haven’t sold for that purpose yet. But make sure you can deliver what you promise.

In short, be specific; say something new and useful, go short on the happy talk and long on your value-add.

And stay healthy!

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Three Ways Hoarding Your Secret Sauce Hurts You

In the past I’ve argued for the value of sharing more, rather than less, of your consulting smarts in your thought leadership content and case studies.

Yet I keep running into resistance when I ask for examples of how my clients work their magic with customers and specifics of the challenges they’ve overcome for them. As a result, everything from white papers to ebooks to product and service descriptions are full of the same general, vague, and repetitive promises and gauzy goals a customer gets from my client’s competitors.

Here are the three main reasons I hear for not sharing “proprietary” knowledge in marketing content, and why I think each of them are wrong:

  1. Our readers understand the business problems and we don’t want to talk down to them by being too specific. Point taken about not being condescending. But you don’t want to bore them to death, either, by being too vague. Explaining a very specific case where you helped a client shows you can do what you claim, and that you have hands-on experience with the technology and/or industry in question.
  2. We don’t want to get too specific because we want to spark a further conversation with the reader. For me, actual success stories and specific tips spur me to click through to the next video, podcast, or blog post. The same vague claims and promises as your competitors aren’t, I suspect, generating those requests for follow-up conversations your marketing efforts need.
  3. If we tell them how to do it in our content, they won’t need us. My first, and easy response, is whether your secret sauce is so thin we could sum it up in a 2,500-word white paper? Of course not. Your value doesn’t come in knowing in general how to tackle the really big technical, change management or “digital transformation” initiatives, but how to do it in the real world. That requires, among other things, learning from past mistakes and knowing how to overcome the “real world” organizational, logistical and culture issues you only learn about from experience.

Sell Your Experience

There is no way a reader can acquire any of this from anything you would write, at least in the 1,500 to 2,000 word format that’s the high range of most of the content I write. It’s even harder to condense this expertise into a Webinar or video. And even if they could, most customers don’t want to steal the recipe for your secret sauce and do the cooking themselves. They want assurance that you have the secret sauce and know how to use it to help them.

For example, I provide detailed advice for writing marketing content in my blog. I have no fear my readers will use my advice to become expert writers because that’s not their skill set and they’re too busy running their own businesses to become professional writers. My aim is to show I’m so expert and experienced I can give away my “secrets” and have plenty more value to offer once they hire me. Which they do.

Have I broken through any of the resistance or do you still think your methodologies, frameworks and processes are too valuable to share?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

In the six years since I first visited Red Hat’s user show,  open source software has become the default choice for enterprise applications and the cloud infrastructures on which they run. This year’s Red Hat Summit provided a  good look at how the open source vendor’s products are evolving and being marketed as it prepares for its $34 billion acquisition by IBM.

Open source means users can view and modify the code to fix bugs and meet new needs. This means a  global pool of enthusiasts improve the software 24/7/365 rather than waiting for a vendor’s next release cycle. But big customers still want enterprise-level support and a single vendor’s “throat to choke.” Hence the rise of Red Hat Software, which grew to a $3.4 billion company by providing support and standard versions of a blizzard of products tailored to the needs of major enterprises.

I came away impressed with the breadth and scale of how open source is replacing more traditional software, and how Red Hat’s roots in the open source community shape its messaging.

My takeaways:

Open Source Is Big

The Boston Convention and Exposition Center was buzzing with a record attendance of about 9,000 and a show floor filled with vendors from startups to industry stalwarts such as HP, Dell EMC, and SAP.  IBM CEO Ginni Rometty showed up to hug Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst, which might have been expected given the upcoming acquisition. What impressed the audience more was CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft endorsing, in person, Red Hat’s OpenShift cloud management platform running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. (OpenShift is based not on Microsoft Windows, but Linux, which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once called a “cancer”.)

Open source is also big in terms of the companies it serves and the applications it runs. Ken Finnerty, president of IT for UPS, described why the global shipper chose Open Shift for its 59 million user My Choice online tracking and shipping platform.  Other featured customers included HCA Healthcare, BMW, and Deutsche Bank. Red Hat has invested heavily in technologies ranging from load balancing to middleware (and worked closely with the big cloud providers) to allow once-fringe open source to run workloads that once would have taken a mainframe.

Know Thy Customer

Who, in this case, is very, very technical. Think jeans and t-shirts, command-line interfaces  and dense architectural diagrams even for keynotes. One demonstration that drew applause and whistles  was the real time capture of movement data from the audience’s smartphones as they waved them in the air (video here) with Red Hat’s infrastructure instantly scaling up to capture and display the data flow.

Red Hat also had something I’d never seen at a trade show: Dedicated, staffed booths where any customer, developer or partner could share their likes and dislikes. There were even tablets (see screen at right) asking for feedback about how  Red Hat listens and communicates. I don’t know what happens to this feedback but asking for it loudly and clearly sends a powerful message.

Love Thy Customer

Most customer endorsements somehow feel more about the vendor than the customer. Red Hat lined the halls with big photos of customers describing how Red Hat helped them, with comments often focused more on Red Hat’s commitment to them then the speeds, feeds, and features of its software. Even ads featuring Red Hat’s new logo took pains to assure the reader that the company’s “soul” is unchanged. How tech companies even claim to have a “soul” these days with a straight face?

Automate and Simplify

With the exploding size and complexity of enterprise clouds, there was a lot of talk about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create automated and even self-healing systems. As is the case in AI- aided security, there’s a lot of hype to watch for but also some signs of real results. One was from ProphetStor Data Services, Inc. which the company claims uses AI to choose just the right amount of compute, networks and storage from the right public clouds for OpenShift environments and fine tunes those recommendations over time.

Another major theme was point and click interfaces for everything from building AI machine learning models to troubleshooting cloud performance problems. Longtime application performance monitoring vendor Dynatrace now offers a platform that clearly describes not only the nature of a problem, but the number and even the identity of the affected users. This not only bridge the infamous gap between IT and the business but expands Dynatrace’s user base from system administrators to mere mortals who run the business.

The Next Marketing Frontier

Moving forward, marketers would do well to clearly explain open source tools such as operators, sidecars, Akka clusters, hyper converged infrastructure and service meshes to both techie and business types, prove vendor claims of AI-enabled everything and explain how automation and more user friendly interfaces can help not just the geeks in the back room but the bottom line.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Busting the AI/Security Hype Cycle

Whenever a buzzword gets hot, you can expect lazy marketers to start pasting it on every product or service in sight. When two buzzwords get popular at the same time, expect double the hype.

So it is with the two hot high-profile trends of security and artificial intelligence (AI). Security is a big deal because more than 50 years into the computer age we still haven’t figured out how to protect our applications and data well enough, and the problem is only getting worse. AI is on everyone’s lips because of its potential to analyze massive amounts of data more quickly and accurately than a human could to identify, and possibly predict, events.

Smart Machines Fighting Bad People

The AI play in security is that algorithms can do a much better job than people at picking out potential threats from the thousands, tens of thousands or millions of clues in your network traffic and among your devices.  At the very least, the pitch goes, AI can sift out the most likely real signs of threats among from everyday shifts in network traffic or whether a repeated log-in attempt is a user who forgot their password or an automated bot trying to guess that password.

That all sounds reasonable, but I’m hearing (even from some of my security clients) that too many security vendors are pasting the “AI” label on their offerings without delivering the goods. As a marketer, if you’re knowingly complicit with this you’re not only misleading the end consumer but setting yourself and your client up for failure when customers realize the client can’t deliver.

I get it that AI story is a rapidly evolving field, your client may still be growing their own AI expertise, and that security customers are justifiably reluctant to share their successes or, even worse, their failures. We still owe it to our clients and their customers to push for real proof that their AI security solutions can do what they claim.

Some tough questions to answer before pumping out more AI/security fluff:

AI/Security Reality Checks

  • What algorithms is the vendor using to sift through the network or device data they are collecting? How have they been proven to be useful?
  • How accurate (numbers, please) is the AI-enabled assessment of real security events vs. false positives? How are those results improving over time?
  • How big is your client’s AI staff and how quickly is it expanding? If they are partnering with other/bigger AI experts, who are they and how strategic is the partnership?
  • What does the solution do to ensure it is being fed correct samples, to avoid the “garbage, in, garbage out” syndrome?
  • How does it guard against hackers turning AI against the enterprise, such as feeding bogus samples into the machine learning data pool, using AI to gather information about the target and identify vulnerabilities, and using AI chatbots to fish for information?
  • Does the vendor recognize the limits of AI and make it easy to bring people with their fuller understanding of context (and common sense) into the decision-making process?
  • And, as always, push for customer case studies, even if anonymous.

We’ve all been to this rodeo – of vendors trying to jump on a new technology trend before they can really deliver – many times before. Curious for your thoughts on:

  • What percent of AI/security claims can your clients back up?
  • What other proof points can they provide for their claims than what I’ve mentioned here? and
  • How willing are your clients to go the extra mile to tell a provable AI/security story?
Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.
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