The only rule is "no biting"

For IT companies, and IT security companies in particular, business is about trust says Clem Colman.



Just recently I revisited a podcast I listened to a couple of years ago – Ethics and the Profession of Arms – a lecture by General David Hurley, Chief ADF. It’s definitely worth listening to if you have a spare hour but if perchance you don’t, I’ll take a shot at summarising Hurley’s key themes:

  • The ADF relies on the public’s trust and confidence to give it the mandate to execute its mission.
  • That mandate is contingent on the ADF acting in a manner the public feels is appropriate and justified.
  • It is an unpredictable world.
  • Policies and rules cannot be prepared for every situation in which officers of the ADF may find themselves.
  • A system of ethics needs to be considered in decision making, it lies at the very heart of all decision making, and in some cases will be the only guidance available.

It got me thinking about business and ethics. I remember once hearing a salesman quip that the only rule in business in Australia was “no biting”. Although I’ve never seen that standard breached that is not saying much.

For IT companies, and IT security companies in particular, business is about trust. Trust is something that is built slowly over time but which can be destroyed by a single bad (unethical) decision. At the same time we have to advance the business’s interests - i.e. while our duty to our client is to act in their interests, our duty to our company is to maximise its wealth. It would seem there is an obvious point of friction. But it doesn’t have to be and good ethics can guide us.

In a corporate context, the first thing is to recognise that the mission is to build and protect long-lasting value for shareholders. One way of doing that is ensuring customers stay customers.

That idea of building customer (and staff) trust aligns nicely with one of UXC’s key commitments – “Keeping our promises”. Keeping promises is great – one of my most important customers (a 5 year old) understands the binding power of that magic word and uses it to maximum effect. But, you would scarcely call me a good Dad just because I kept my promises.

Like an iceberg, “Keeping our promises” is the visible part of our commitment to our customers. Beneath it are the ethics that underpin and support that commitment. From a consulting perspective, things like:

  • Always act in our client’s best interests.
  • Maintain quality in the work we do.
  • Deliver things of actual value.
  • Keep confidential any information that was provided in-confidence (implied or otherwise).
  • Be clear and forthright about any conflict of interest.
  • Apply ourselves honestly and diligently to the task at hand.

Incorporating ethics into thinking brings another useful benefit; the process requires taking a wider view with a better understanding of context and objectives. Better strategic thinking with less focus on the short term is an almost inevitable result.

About the Author

Clem Colman is an experienced business leader and IT Security specialist.

He is a Principal Consultant at UXC Saltbush.