Protect your assets Featured

6:35am EDT February 24, 2005
Companies lose intellectual property valued in the billions of dollars every year -- irreplaceable assets gone, many times, with the click of a button. In the corporate age of the Internet and e-mail, technology has made the task of accessing and sharing large amounts of data easier and easier, and has produced value as well as risk for companies.

Unfortunately, easy access to your company's intellectual capital creates greater risk of unwelcomed trespassing, and that intellectual capital is left unguarded, it can leave your company exposed. To make matters worse, whether their intent is premeditated or their actions are purely accidental, authorized users within your organization are most often the ones responsible for this intellectual hemorrhaging. Consequently, rights management is quickly becoming one of the most difficult challenges today's businesses confront.

In an attempt to arm companies with the tools they need to protect their intellectual capital, technology hardware and software providers have introduced products to help them securely and safely distribute their valuable company intelligence. As a result, information rights management (IRM) solutions have been adopted by many companies seeking to safeguard their precious assets.

IRM programs focus on protecting the content where it exists, whether in an e-mail, on a hard drive or on a server. A model IRM system permits an organization to manage and control information by restricting who can access it and for how long.

Many early solutions tried to accomplish this, yet, for many reasons, they failed to provide a feasible answer. Historically, companies have utilized Adobe PDF software to convert documents to a "view only" format. This solution, however, is complex at best, requiring conversion training, adding another step into the process, and ultimately, falling short of its goal to fully protect content.

The recent introduction of Microsoft Office System 2003 has gone a step further. Equipped with an integrated advanced rights management system, this package of business software helps companies manage and protect their shared information. Giving content authors the authority to assign permission levels to information, the system helps control how the content can be accessed in three categories: view only; view and print; or view, print and edit.

To complement this software package, Microsoft has also designed new server hardware, Microsoft Rights Management Server (RMS). Developed to recognize and abide by authorizations granted in Office 2003 applications, RMS provides the tools required to secure intellectual property throughout your organization.

The biggest advantage of the Microsoft RMS solution is that it is server-based. Hence, permissions can be issued easily across the organization. User restrictions can be automatically originated when the document is created or applied with document templates after it exists. This network system distributes permissions and authenticates the credentials of each user, effortlessly, without interrupting or deviating from normal practices.

Another benefit of the Microsoft RMS solution is the ability to customize permissions to an individual or a group of users. For example, rights can be assigned to all executive-level managers, while others can be limited to executives in the legal department. User parameters can be modified at any time at the server level.

This flexibility ensures access to the information, and, at the same time, provides companies the ability to react promptly based on the current requirements of the organization.

Of course, no solution is without its downfalls, and Microsoft RMS is no exception. The most significant is its inability to manage permission rights, after the information leaves your company.

Microsoft RMS is also limited by its exclusive compatibility with Microsoft Office 2003. Companies using earlier versions cannot take advantage of the rights management benefits until they upgrade their software. This compatibility issue is an even bigger challenge for companies not currently utilizing Microsoft-based applications.

Microsoft has taken steps to accommodate other providers' software working with its rights management system. This cooperation, coupled with the fact that 90 percent of businesses currently work in the Microsoft Office platform, may soon solve some of these shortcomings.

Requiring the management of people, technology and process across the organization, information rights management is not an issue easily solved. But its importance is evident. Regardless of which solution your company implements, effective rights management is necessary to protect your company from the destructive consequences associated with intellectual property loss.

Reach Tim Landgrave at (502) 420-4546 or tlandgrave@crowechizek.com.