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Strategy Session: Automate Now! But What?

It seems we require outside forces in order to mature. American auto-buying habits turned on a dime during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Out were ego-massaging muscle cars; in were efficient, reliable vehicles. Where my brother drove a 1966 Chevelle SS in high school, I drove a 1976 Honda Civic; nowhere near as fast or sexy, but it got three times the gas mileage. But though priorities changed fast, products evolved more slowly; the Japanese automakers had the right products at the right time, and the U.S. auto industry was dealt a blow from which it still hasn't recovered.

Our industry is going through a similar shift, brought on by the twin specters of embarrassing data loss and increased government and industry regulation. A majority of states have followed the model set by California's SB1386, which requires that individuals be notified if their personal data is compromised, and you shouldn't be surprised if a bill finds its way through Congress before elections. Long-time contributor-turned-new-columnist Patrick Mueller explains how the FTC recently came down on one well-known company for a Sarbanes-Oxley violation. Read his column for some very interesting details, but the moral of the story is that setting a policy is useless without enforcement.

Enforcement, however, is never easy--unless it is automated. Whether you've been photographed by traffic cameras, or redirected from a questionable Web page at work, you know that automating policy enforcement is far more effective than attempting to enforce it manually. So, we wondered if compliance and policy enforcement would finally justify the automation inherent in ILM. We also wondered whether ILM was up to the task of managing and reporting on data retention to meet the demands of regulations.

In our cover story, Howard Marks finds that in terms of both data classification and reporting, ILM still has a way to go. Therein lies perhaps the toughest problem facing IT today. There's no doubt that automating information management, user provisioning or any of a dozen other pain points would make for a better, more secure and more productive business--but only if the automation systems aren't more expensive to implement and maintain than the manual systems they replace. Over the next few months, we'll be working to help you determine whether IT automation products deliver on their promise.

From CMDBs to ILM to identity management, archiving and more, we'll take a look at the state of the art and help you determine the business rationale for implementing automation. The impetus for change has already hit us. Now it's time to figure out what to do about it.

Art Wittmann is editor in chief of Network Computing.