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SOFTWARE

Machine Vaccine

Antiviral software programs are installed to protect computer systems, but if the software isn't updated constantly by IT specialists (which takes time) and users don't activate the software when they're supposed to (which takes cajoling), the next computer virus down the pike could strike like the deadly Ebola. Symantec, a utility software company, joined forces with IBM's Watson Research Centre in the US, to create a total antiviral system. How does it work? Just as vaccinations are used to immunise our bodies from harmful diseases, the Digital Immune System was designed to stop unknown viruses before they have a chance to spread.

Norton AntiVirus software is installed on an individual's PC or Mac, where it scans files for viruses. If it finds known viruses, it offers users options to repair or delete the offending file. When an unknown virus is detected - through suspiciously acting code or similarity to other viruses - the system alerts the user's IT department and an IT specialist then sends a viral sample to a secure system at Symantec's Antivirus Research Centre in California. There, the virus is replicated and analysed automatically on a secure system. According to Kate Brew, director of product marketing at Tivoli Systems, a division of IBM, the system is designed to cure 90 per cent of all viral infections without any human intervention within 24 hours. Once the system develops a "cure", it e-mails it to the afflicted company's IT department. From there the cure is disseminated to user desktops as it is needed. The beauty of the Digital Immune System is that it will send the cure to all other companies that are also members of the system. Vaccinations have never been this painless. For more information, visit www.symantec.com. - Lynne RigoliniTHE WORKPLACE Sticks and Stones . . .

When co-workers treat each other badly, it's not just morale that can suffer - so, too, can the company's bottom line. That's the conclusion of a recent study by the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School on the effects of incivility at work.

The study surveyed 775 people across a variety of industries and company sizes who were targets of incivility on the job. Examples of uncivil behaviour included sending a nasty and demeaning note, making accusations about a lack of knowledge, undermining credibility in front of others and shouting at someone. Respondents who experienced such treatment described their reactions to the incident in the chart below. Only one-fourth were satisfied with the way their organisation handled the situation, suggesting that leaders need to make some changes.

First, "be aware that there is a high cost to workplace incivility", says Christine Pearson, professor of management at UNC and author of the study. Second, realise that many instances of uncivil behaviour go unreported. "In IT, especially, there is a tendency to look the other way if the instigator is especially valuable on the technical end," Pearson notes. But it's in leaders' best interests to listen to employees who report such problems and to take action. Particularly in IT, where demand for workers so greatly exceeds the supply, Pearson warns that those affected can easily get fed up and find another job.

"Web portals are like SELF-HELP BOOKS - if they WORKED, you'd need only one" - Joshua Walker, analyst, Forrester ResearchE-MAIL What U Say By Meg MitchellIt used to be that shunning punctuation was the domain of creative types like e e cummings. Now it seems anyone with a keyboard, an e-mail account and a dash of impatience can just say no to some of the building blocks of good written communication, like capitalisation and correct grammar and spelling.

Many of us are guilty as charged. Raise your hand if you've never shot off an e-mail without rereading it or eschewed the dictionary in favour of your best guess thinking, "Who cares? It's not a real letter." Not many hands up out there. As both senders and recipients of e-mail, we've begun to overlook such indiscretions.

Mary Bruder, aka The Grammar Lady, who runs a grammar Web site (www.grammarlady.com) and hotline in the US, points to the lickety-split nature of e-mail as the culprit, because it encourages people to act without thinking. "People think if they're in a hurry, it's not such a big deal," says Bruder. But is it a big deal? Sloppy e-mail may make the writer look stupid or confuse the recipient, but it's unlikely to be the downfall of our civilisation. If we don't maintain other sources of written communication, however, Bruder says, "There could be a [communication] breakdown along age lines, like when families who don't speak English immigrate. The children learn the new language and can't speak to the grandparents. I hope that doesn't happen." Bruder's doing her best to prevent that. She recently wrote a book called Much Ado About a Lot (Hyperion, 2000), which tells people what sort of grammar is appropriate for different situations. She cautions against putting too much stock in spell check and grammar check programs, rather unsubtle tools. As The Grammar Lady, Bruder welcomes visitors to post-grammar questions on her Web site but warns that she won't answer uncapitalised or unpunctuated messages. She concedes, though, that she doesn't get a lot of those: "I think people are on their best behaviour when they write to me." If only that were the case with every e-mail.

Maybe Not So Dumb After All

By Derek Slater

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is now comfortably on the backlash side of the hype cycle. Various studies and articles decry the number of failed implementation efforts and the lack of quantifiable ROI, even for companies that pulled off these gargantuan projects without crashing their business. On top of that, formerly high-flying ERP vendors like Baan, System Software Associates (SSA) and J D Edwards have suffered severe slumps in their financial performance, with Baan and SSA being acquired by other companies.

Today's media darlings are trading exchanges - electronic marketplaces that aggregate suppliers and buyers in an attempt to wring inefficiencies out of the purchasing process.

But hold on a minute. How much efficiency can exchange participation bring to a business that doesn't know what it needs to buy? "There is going to be an advantage for companies that have a good, clean source of management data," says David Schneider, a partner for consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (US) who leads all electronic market activities and the strategic change practice. And that's exactly what ERP systems are designed to provide - good, clean, consolidated management data, including a look at inventory levels, purchasing plans and that sort of thing. "If the Internet is a bridge, but it connects to a dirt road when it reaches your company," then electronic exchanges won't provide the cost benefits they could, Schneider says.

So those who have toiled and sweated through ERP implementations shouldn't think the final word on ROI has been written yet. Further benefits in the increasingly interconnected business world lie ahead.

"People always pay MORE ATTENTION to what leaders DO, rather than what they SAY" - from Pigeonholed in the Land of Penguins, by Barbara Hateley and Warren H Schmidt

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