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Feature

Digital Rights For Business Data

Licensing tools set and enforce rules for protecting and exposing content
Integrated Management Concepts also chose to bake digital-rights management directly into its application. Its software, designed to let companies share sensitive information such as labor rates or financial projections to make more-effective decisions on large-scale projects, has evolved from a product with no access control to one that had simple password protection to its latest incarnation as a digital-rights management-protected application. Managers often discouraged project team members by requiring that they remember passwords or contact another team member who controls a particular data set, chief technology officer Chris Taylor says. ContentGuard's technology provides customers with the transparent access control they've been asking for, and the result is that project data is getting into the right hands with more regularity.

Consider a company that's developing an aircraft. A manager who has oversight of wing design needs the right to allocate engineering staff or generate cost-analysis reports, but that manager doesn't need access to other parts of the aircraft design project. The overall project manager grants rights to all wing-related project work to that manager, who not only gets access to that specific data set but can also grant the same rights to his or her team members. No one gets bogged down with passwords or tracking down co-workers. "If you don't make that information distributable in the enterprise, there's no sense in collecting it in the first place," Taylor says. "Everyone needs the information that's important to them."

Business-to-business digital-rights management deployments aren't always about controlling access or enabling digital commerce. Sometimes, the decision to adopt digital-rights management is strictly a security move.

Tag Aviation USA prides itself on the level of service it provides managing and operating 120 corporate aircraft, and it has detailed its standard practices in a set of manuals that are distributed to flight and maintenance crews. The company is replacing hundreds of hard copies of the manuals with CD-ROM versions that can be updated regularly via the Internet.

The CD-ROM manuals also make it possible for Tag to protect the content using rights-management software from Digital World Services, a unit of German entertainment conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. The software prevents Tag employees from forwarding content from the manuals or accessing it without a password. The ability to prevent the CD-ROMs from falling into the wrong hands will provide Tag with confidence that its competitive edge isn't being compromised. "We don't want the competition to know what our policy is or what our standards or procedures are," says Larry Edeal, VP of flight operations and standards.

A company's goals -- access, commerce, or security -- matter little to digital-rights management vendors. Meg Fisher, senior director of business development at Digital World Services, which was founded to help Bertelsmann build a business model for online music distribution, says she expects Digital World to push harder on B-to-B digital-rights management deployments next year. While sales to entertainment and media companies constituted about 90% of Digital World's business just six months ago, Fisher anticipates a 50-50 split with B-to-B deployments in the near future.

A similar shift is seen for eMeta, says CTO and founder Jonathan Lewin. The goals of entertainment and B-to-B digital-rights management deployments aren't all that different anyway, he says. "They have a common aim to define digital content or services, define the user, and then define the terms of the access."

But the smart digital-rights management vendors make one key distinction: While the market they thought would be mature by now -- entertainment -- isn't as far along as anticipated, the segment they'd largely ignored -- B-to-B -- may soon be their bread and butter.

Claudia Newell/Three In A Box