07.03.2007 17:55Tim Cole

TIM COLE: Siemens Has Learned Its Lesson
TISA aims at tying the knot on the needs of both business and technology
According to the results of the PISA study, Germany is rather mediocre, at least as far as the academic performance of its students goes. But now, with “TISA”, Siemens is proving that they, at least, are educateable.

Like many others the Munich-based multinational has been trying to make things like PKI, SmartCards and biometrics palatable to customers. That reminds me of my own schooldays when my mother would force me to down a spoonful of castor oil whenever my grades went down. According to her it would boost my powers of concentration. (Little did she know that the source of my inattention was more romantic than physical – the little freckled girl in the front row at class…)

When I sprang my castor oil metaphor on Dr. Willi Kafitz of Siemens Enterprise Communications it elicited a smile. We had been discussing the difficulty of convincing customers about the benefits of complicated technical systems, and while we were talking it occurred to me that Siemens apparently has learned a very important lesson, namely that “projects often fail because they are too technology-driven”, as Kafitz put it.

This realization actually changed things at Siemens, and I can only applaud this. Kafitz and his colleagues have been busy for the past few months putting together a totally new approach to selling security products. Next month the project, code named “TISA”, will officially be launched, but he was able to let me in on this much: TISA stands for “Totally Integrated SmartCard Architecture” – or maybe the “S” should stand for “security”, as many in the team kept insisting. Personally I think they’re right; after all the whole concept revolves around creating all-inclusive, out-of-the-box solution packages for Siemens’ most important vertical markets, as opposed to walking around with a vendor’s tray full of assorted bits and pieces of technical merchandise.

„In everyday business people need a reliable and trustworthy way to deal with identities within their organisations, their companies or when dealing with partners, suppliers or customers transparently, efficiently and comprehensively”, Kafitz maintains. Ideally these solutions should be tailored to the business needs of individual industries in order to achieve the greatest possible benefits with the least possible adaptation effort.

So at Siemens they have been busy creating a new line-up of products scheduled to hit the market as “TISA 4 Enterprises”, “TISA 4 Health” and “TISA 4 Government” within the next few weeks. Of course, they aren’t really products at all, Kafitz states, but rather “pre-packaged modular solutions within an architectural infrastructure aimed at satisfying the general or specific needs of a company or organisation at the business process level.”

A good example is „TISA 4 Universities“ which will be one of the first to launch. It first began with a systematic analysis of the typical processes that occur within academic environments. This led in turn to an attempt at pulling everything together based on a binding concept of digital identity. The result was a multi-purpose student ID that doubles as a library card, a payment system at dining halls and copy shops, an access device for the IT lab, and an enrolment system that automatically registers when the student returns to school after the semester break. In addition, it allows the holder to access the online-based academic information system HIS, or “Hochschulinformationssytem”.

TISA brings together organisational and technical levels within a university (or a company) by defining and providing processes and workflows that reduce administration loads, while at the same time unobtrusively bundling the necessary technologies as multifunctional SmartCards, management systems, PKI infrastructures, and Identity Management. That way Siemens hopes to avoid the typical problems that usually face projects like these – things like obsession with technology, lack of pre-defined, standards-based processes, insufficient best practices know-how, etc.

“The good thing is that now we can always provide the right answers to our customers’ questions, no matter what level of people we’re talking with”, says Kafitz. For instance executives usually want to know how they can manage and slim down their business processes. Their concerns are about such things as implementing digital signatures in order to set up an online billing system or digitizing documents and paper archives in a legally conforming way. The IT department on the other hand will want to know more about multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, provisioning or setting up a trust center. “TISA brings these different viewpoints together and defines mutual goals and roadmaps for successful projects”, Kafitz believes.

Okay, so it helped a lot that Siemens itself is probably its own best customer in this area. After all, some 470,000 employees have been using multifunctional company ID cards for years now, and Siemens runs a wide-ranging entitlement program that is the direct responsibility of the CSO.

I was so excited about what he told me that I asked Willi Kafitz to come to Munich next spring to talk about his new project at KCP’s European Identity Conference that we will be hosting from May 7 through 10 at the Forum Deutsches Museum (think: the German Smithsonian Institution), which he agreed to do. Hopefully he will be able to report on initial reactions and first experiences by actual customers. In any case, his speech already promises to be a great learning experience for the attendees.

Maybe we should consider doing our own investigation and publishing the results. I have a wonderful idea for a title: How about the “TISA Study”?

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