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Data Abstraction and Data Independence

Promises and Problems of the Internet

Information is the cornerstone of e-business. The Internet allows businesses to use information more effectively, by allowing customers, suppliers, employees, and partners to get access to the business information they need, when they need it. Customers can use the Web to place orders which can be fulfilled more quickly and with less error, suppliers and fulfillment houses can be engaged as orders are placed, reducing or eliminating the need for inventory, and employees can obtain timely information about business operations. The Internet also makes possible new, innovative pricing mechanisms, such as online competitive bidding for suppliers, and online auctions for customers. These Internet-enabled services all translate to reduced cost: there is less overhead, greater economies of scale, and increased efficiency. The greatest promise of e-business is more timely, more valuable information accessible to more people, at reduced cost of information access.

The promise of e-business is offset by the security challenges associated with the disintermediation of data access. Cutting out the middleman–removing the distributors, wholesalers and retailers from the trading chain–too often cuts out the information security the middleman provides. Likewise, the user community expands from a small group of known, reliable users accessing data from the intranet, to thousands of users accessing data from the Internet. Application hosting providers and exchanges offer especially stringent–and sometimes contradictory–requirements of security by user and by customer, while allowing secure data sharing among communities of interest.

While putting business systems on the Internet offers potentially unlimited opportunities for increasing efficiency and reducing cost, it also offers potentially unlimited risk. The Internet provides much greater access to data, and to more valuable data, not only to legitimate users, but also to hackers, disgruntled employees, criminals, and corporate spies.

Increased Data Access

One of the chief e-business benefits of the Internet is disintermediation. The intermediate information processing steps which employees typically perform in traditional businesses, such as typing in an order received over the phone or by mail, are removed from the e-business process. Users who are not employees and are thus outside the traditional corporate boundary (including customers, suppliers, and partners) can have direct and immediate online access to business information which pertains to them.

In a traditional office environment, any access to sensitive business information is through employees. Although employees are not always reliable, at least they are known, their access to sensitive data is limited by their job function, and access is enforced by physical and procedural controls. Employees who pass sensitive information outside the company contrary to policy may be subject to disciplinary action. The threat of punishment thus helps prevent unauthorized access.

Making business information accessible by means of the Internet vastly increases the number of users who may be able to access that information. When business is moved to the Internet, the environment is drastically changed. Companies may know little or nothing about the users (including, in many cases, employees) who are accessing their systems. Even if they know who their users are, it may be very difficult for companies to deter users from accessing information contrary to company policy. It is therefore important that companies manage access to sensitive information, and prevent unauthorized access to that information before it occurs.