The new secure electronic transaction (SET) protocol is perhaps the most important technology for the future of the Web, says IBM’s Internet chief.
Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM’s Internet division, worked with Visa, Mastercard and others on the encryption protocols which went into SET and says the security it offers will be a powerful factor in encouraging traders and consumers to do business over the Internet.
“If the Web is not secure, people will not trust it for anything,” says Wladawsky-Berger. “And we can now say that, so long as we use the right software protocols, the Internet is absolutely safe for real business.”
SET is, says Wladawsky-Berger, a shining example of what the Internet is bringing to traditional IT — standards.
“In the old world of IT, our applications worked very well, but we were prisoners of our own architecture,” he says. “We couldn’t reach out to the applications of our business partners, let alone to our customers. But with the Internet, which began life as a communications medium, that has changed. What we are seeing now is a convergence — the substance of IT combining with the connectivity of the Web. And unlike previous advances in IT infrastructure, this one does not throw everything else away.”
This is, Wladawsky-Berger admits, a vision which suits the purposes of IBM, the company with the largest IT legacy of all.
“Yes, that’s true. And sometimes it’s good to be on the right side of the issue. It makes it easier to move into the future and be a leader if you’re not fighting market forces.
“We’ve done that in the past and it’s very painful. In the past there have been changes that have meant we have had to re-engineer our systems, lay off people and take a lot of pain. But this particular one is the opposite. It means that what IBM is very good at is extremely valuable.
“So everything we are doing is coming to the Web. There is now almost no product or service that that does not have as one of its main aims the bringing of our customers to the next generation of technology.”
The central place of companies such as IBM in the Internet debate represents a striking change from last year, when the battle was between two software companies with rival browsers. It’s a sign of maturity that that is so, says Wladawsky-Berger.
“We have all learned that this stuff is really useful — and fighting over a browser is the most boring thing in the world when you can talk about giving somebody access to valuable information 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. And that valuable information is often IT — from a bank database, say. That’s where the action is.
“And what we have to learn to do is forget all these silly wars and build the bloody application. I think we all discovered that in the marketplace.”