You may have thought all the security effects of 9/11 were taking place in airports, but a major response to terrorism is also taking place in the workplace. Security-related technologies are no longer just water-cooler fodder--they're being implemented among both large and small businesses.
Consider the services offered by PaperlessPOBox Inc., a San Francisco-based company that opened for business September 11, 2001, with a demonstration of its e-mail service planned that day in lower Manhattan. The terrorist attacks postponed the demonstration, but the anthrax attacks that followed gave the company an unexpected boost, though company founder David Nale says most customers use his service out of convenience, not fear.
When customers sign up with PaperlessPOBox, they receive a P.O. box at a post office near the company's processing facility in San Francisco. Customers then give that address to mailers. PaperlessPOBox employees pick up the mail delivered to the P.O. boxes each morning and bring it to the processing center, where it's scanned into a computer and e-mailed to customers that day.
"Some heard about us through the media after 9/11 and came to us because they didn't want to touch their mail," Nale says. "A mailing services company needed us to handle mail for its clients, since its facilities were shut down as a result of an anthrax scare."
One entrepreneur who signed on with PaperlessPOBox for its convenience--but who's pleased the service offers an extra layer of security--is Michael D. Moore, 39, president of San Francisco-based EcoReefs, which manufactures ceramic artificial reef systems. "The service definitely offers a security bonus," says Moore. "We're in a home office environment and don't have a mail room that screens our mail, so when the anthrax scares took place, we were concerned."
After 9/11, entrepreneurs also became more interested in smart-card technology and realized smart cards aren't just for securing airline terminals. The size of an ID badge or credit card, smart cards can store data, such as an individual's photo, address and fingerprints, thereby providing easy and instant identification of users.
More companies are looking at biometrically encoded smart cards as a way to protect physical property, using them to validate access to everything from data centers to executive suites. In the future, companies may take smart cards a step further and use them as universal employee ID cards that seamlessly control access to specific networks and facilities.
While most entrepreneurs have yet to sign on for full-fledged smart-card programs, "small businesses will benefit from the advances the government and larger enterprises are generating," says Randy Vanderhoof, acting president and CEO of Smart Card Alliance, an industry association. "These organizations and businesses are working on generating smart-card systems and solutions right now that will then trickle down in the marketplace for smaller companies."
It remains to be seen what the products or systems will look like and who will manufacture them-whether it will be the system integrators or the card manufacturers, for example. However, Vanderhoof says that "a byproduct of these systems will be available on a much smaller scale down the line, making this commercially available to smaller enterprises and entrepreneurs."
One reason entrepreneurs may want to take a closer look at smart-card technology is because a recent Harris Interactive survey found most employees and managers felt their employers should be strengthening ID procedures for entering premises and accessing computer systems, and doing more detailed background checks on job applicants. Four out of five respondents also were willing to have an employer-issued ID card to enhance workplace security.
What's the next step? Business leaders are developing a secure phone network to efficiently communicate with each other and government leaders in case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The high-security communications network-called CEO Link-will help bring CEOs and government officials together to help communicate timely threat information and figure out what needs to be done to ensure the security of workers and communities. CEO Link will also fill several practical needs, such as keeping tabs on energy and telecommunication issues in an emergency.
The network is being built by AT&T and members of the Business Roundtable, a group of about 150 CEOs of major U.S. companies. Initially, only members of the Business Roundtable will have access to the network, but a BRT spokesperson expected it to expand to more businesses, entrepreneurs and government agencies.
- The Business Roundtable
1615 L St. N.W., #1100, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 872-1260
(415) 648-9725, http://www.ecoreefs.com
- PaperlessPOBox Inc.
(866) 4-PAPERLESS, www.paperlesspobox.com
- Smart Card Alliance
(800) 556-6828, www.smartcardalliance.org
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at email@example.com.