Premise vs. Premises


If you’ve listened to a technology presentation in the past two years that included discussion of cloud computing, you’ve probably become embroiled in the ongoing war of the usage of the word premises or the shift of people using the word premise in its stead. This battle has raged for many months now, with the premises side of the argument refusing to give ground and watch a word be totally redefined. So where is this all coming from?

The Premise of Your Premises

The etymology of these two words is actually linked, as you might expect. Premise is the first to appear in the late 14th century. It traces from the Old French premisse which is derived from the Medieval Latin premissa, which are both defined as “a previous proposition from which another follows”.

The appearance of premises comes from the use of premise in legal documents in the 15th century. In those documents, a premise was a “matter previously stated”. More often than not, that referred to some kind of property like a house or a building. Over time, that came to be known as a premises.

Where the breakdown starts happening is recently in technology. We live in a world where brevity is important. The more information we can convey in a brief period the better we can be understood by our peers. Just look at the walking briefing scenes from The West Wing to get an idea of how we must compress and rapidly deliver ideas today. In an effort to save precious syllables during a presentation, I’m sure some CTO or Senior Engineer compressed premises into premise. And as we often do in technology, this presentation style and wording was copied ad infinitum by imitators and competitors alike.

Now, we stand on the verge of premise being redefined. This has a precedent in recent linguistics. The word literally was recently been changed from the standard definition of “in a literal sense” or describing something as it actually happened into an informal usage of “emphasizing strong feeling while not being literally true”. This change has grammar nerds and linguistics people at odds. Some argue that language evolves over time to include new meanings. Others claim that changing a word to be defined as the exact opposite meaning is a perversion and is wrong.

The Site of Your Ideas

Perhaps the real solution to this problem is to get rid of the $2 words when a $.50 word will do just fine. Instead of talking about on-premises cloud deployments, how about referring to them as on-site? Instead of talking about the premise behind creating a hybrid cloud, why not refer to the idea behind it (especially when you consider that the strict definition of premise doesn’t really mean idea).

By excising these words from your vocabulary now, you lose the risk of using them improperly. You even get to save a syllable here and there. If word economy is truly the goal, the aim should be to use the most precise word with the least amount of effort. If you are parroting a presentation from Amazon or Google and keep referring to on-premise computing you are doing a disservice to people that are listening to you and will carry your message forward to new groups of listeners.

Tom’s Take

If you’re going to insist on using premises and premise, please make sure you get them right. It takes less than a second to add the missing “s” to the end of that idea and make it a real place. Otherwise you’re going to come off sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Kind of like this (definitely not safe for work):

Instead, let’s move past using these terms and get back to something more simple and straightforward. Sites can never be confused for ideas. It may be more direct and less flashy to say on-site but you never have to worry about using the wrong term or getting the grammarians on your bad side. And that’s a premise worth believing in.


Tips For Presenting On Video


Giving a presentation is never an easy thing for a presenter. There’s a lot that you have to keep in mind, like pacing and content. You want to keep your audience in mind and make sure you’re providing value for the time they are giving you.

But there is usually something else you need to keep in mind today. Most presentations are being recorded for later publication. When presenting for an audience that has a video camera or two, there are a few other things you want to keep in mind on top of every other thing you are trying to keep track of.

Tip 1: Introduce Early. And Often

One of the things you really need to keep in mind for recorded presentations is time. If the videos are going to be posted to Youtube after the event the length of your presentation is going to matter. People that stumble across your talk aren’t going to want to watch an hour or two of slide discussion. A fifteen minute overview of a topic works much better from a video perspective.

Never rely on a lower third to do something you are capable of taking five seconds to say.

Keeping that in mind, you should start every section of your presentation with an introduction. Tell everyone who you are and what you do. That establishes credibility with the audience. It also helps the viewer figure out who you are right away. Sometimes not knowing who is talking distracts enough that people get lost and miss content. Never rely on a lower third to do something you are capable of taking five seconds to say.

Note that if you decide to go down this road, you need to make sure your audience is aware of what you’re doing. Someone might find it off-putting that you’re introducing yourself twenty minutes after you just did. But you don’t want to turn it into a parody or humor point. Just be clear about why you’re doing it and make it quick and clean.

Tip 2: Take A Deep Breath

When you are transitioning between sections, one of the worst things you can do is try to fill time with idle conversation. People are hard wired to insert filler into conversations. Conquering that compulsion is a difficult task but very worth it in the end.

One of the reasons why getting rid of filler conversation is important for a video recording is the editing around an introduction. If you start your introduction with, “Um, uh, hello there, um, My name is, uh, Tom Hollingsworth…” That particular introduction is rife with unnecessary filler that does nothing but distract from a statement of who you are.

The easiest way to do this is to take a deep breath before you start speaking. By clearing your mind before you open your mouth, you are much less likely to insert filler words in an effort to keep the conversation flowing. Another good technique that news reporters use is the countdown. Yes, it does serve a purpose for the editor to know when to start the clip. But it also helps the reporter focus on when to start and collect their faculties before speaking.

Try it yourself next time. When you’re ready to make a clean transition, just insert a single second of silence while you take a breath. Odds are great that you’ll find your transitions much more appealing.

Tip 3: Questions Anyone?

This one is a bit trickier. The best presentation model works from the idea that the audience should ask questions during a presentation instead of after it. By having a question closely tied to an idea people are much more likely to remember it and find it relevant. This is especially true on video, as the view can rewind and listen to the question and answer a couple of times.

But what about those questions that aren’t exactly tied to a specific idea or cover a topic not discussed? That’s where the final Q&A period comes in. You want to make sure to capture any final thoughts from the audience. But since this is all about the video you also want to make sure you don’t cut someone off with a premature close out.

When you ask for final questions, make sure you take a few seconds and visually glance around the room. Silence is very easy to cut out of a video. But it’s much harder to cut out someone saying “Okay, so there are no more questions…” followed by someone asking a question. It’s much better to take the extra time to make sure there are no questions or comments. The extra seconds are more than worth it.

Tom’s Take

I get to see both sides of the presentation game. Whether I’m presenting at Tech.UNPLUGGED this week or editing a video from Tech Field Day. I find that presenting for a live audience while also being aware of the things that make video useful and successful are important skills to master in today’s speaking circuit.

It doesn’t take a lot of additional effort to make your presentation video-ready. A little practice and you’ll have it down in no time flat.

Network Firefighters or Fire Marshals?


Throughout my career as a network engineer, I’ve heard lots of comparisons to emergency responders thrown around to describe what the networking team does. Sometimes we’re the network police that bust offenders of bandwidth polices. Other times there is the Network SWAT Team that fixes things that get broken when no one else can get the job done. But over and over again I hear network admins and engineers called “fire fighters”. I think it’s time to change how we look at the job of fires on the network.

Fight The Network

The president of my old company used to try to motivate us to think beyond our current job roles by saying, “We need to stop being firefighters.” It was absolutely true. However, the sentiment lacked some of the important details of what exactly a modern network professional actually does.

Think about your job. You spend most of your time implementing change requests and trying to fix things that don’t go according to plan. Or figuring out why a change six months ago suddenly decided today to create a routing loop. And every problem you encounter is a huge one that requires an “all hands on deck” mentality to fix it immediately.

People look at networks as a closed system that should never break or require maintenance of any kind until it breaks. There’s a reason why a popular job description (and Twitter handle) involves describing your networking job as a plumber or janitor. We’re the response personnel that get called out on holidays to fix a problem that creates a mess for other people that don’t know how to fix it.

And so we come to the fire fighter analogy. The idea of a group of highly trained individuals sitting around the NOC (or firehouse) waiting for the alarm to go off. We scramble to get the problem fixed and prevent disaster. Then go back to our NOC and clean up to do it all over again. People think about networking professionals this way because they only really talk to us when there’s a crisis that we need to deal with.

The catch with networking is that we’re very rarely sitting around playing ping pong or cleaning our gear. In the networking world we find ourselves being pushed from one crisis to the next. A change here creates a problem there. A new application needs changes to run. An old device created a catastrophe when a new one was brought online. Someone did something without approval that prevented the CEO from watching Youtube. The list is long and distinguished. But it all requires us to fix things at the end of the day.

The problem isn’t with the fire fighting mentality. Our society wouldn’t exist without firefighters. We still have to have protection against disaster. So how is it that we can have an ordered society with relatively few firefighters versus the kinds of chaos we see in networking?

Marshal, Marshal, Marshal

The key missing piece is the fire marshal. Firefighters put out fires. Fire marshals prevent them from happening in the first place. They do this by enforcing the local fire codes and investigating what caused a fire in the first place.

The most visible reminder of the job of a fire marshal is found in any bar or meeting room. There is almost always a sign by the door stating the maximum occupancy according to the local fire code. Occupancy limits prevent larger disasters should a fire occur. Yes, it’s a bit of bummer when you are told that no one else can enter the bar until some people leave. But the fire marshal would rather deal with unhappy patrons than with injuries or deaths in case of fire.

Other duties of the fire marshal include investigating the root cause of a fire and trying to find out how to prevent it in the future. Was is deliberate? Did it involve a faulty piece of equipment? These are all important questions to ask in order to find out how to keep things from happening all over again.

Let’s apply these ideas to the image of network professionals as firefighters. Instead of spending the majority of time dealing with the fallout from bad decisions there should be someone designated to enforce network policy and explain why those policies exist. Rather than caving to the whims of application developers that believe their program needs elevated QoS treatment, the network fire marshal can explain why QoS is tiered the way that it is and why including this new app in the wrong tier will create chaos down the road.

How about designating a network fire marshal to figure out why there was a routing table meltdown? Too often we find ourselves fixing the problem and not caring about the root cause so long as we can reassure ourselves that the problem won’t come back. A network fire marshal can do a post mortem investigation and find out which change caused the issue and how to prevent it in the future with proper documentation or policy changes.

It sounds simple and straightforward to many folks. Yet these are the things that tend to be neglected when the fires flare up and time becomes a premium resource. By having someone to fill the role of investigator and educator, we can only hope that network fires can be prevented before they start.

Tom’s Take

Networking can’t evolve if we spend the majority of our time dealing with the disasters we could have prevented with even a few minutes of education or caution. SDN seeks to prevent us from shooting off our own foot. But we can also help out by looking to the fire marshal as an example of how to prevent these network fires before they start. With some education and a bit of foresight we can reduce our workload of disaster response with disaster prevention. Imagine how much more time we would have to sit around the NOC and play ping pong?


CCIE at 50k: Software Defined? Or Hardware Driven?


Congratulations to Ryan Booth (@That1Guy_15) on becoming CCIE #50117. It’s a huge accomplishment for him and the networking community. Ryan has put in a lot of study time so this is just the payoff for hard work and a job well done. Ryan has done something many dream of and few can achieve. But where is the CCIE program today? And where will it be in the future?

Who Wants To Be A CCIE?

A lot of virtual ink has been committed to opinions in the past couple of years about how the CCIE is become increasingly irrelevant in a world of software defined DevOps focused non-traditional networking teams. It has been said that the CCIE doesn’t teach modern networking concepts like programming or building networks in a world with no CLI access. While this is all true, I don’t think it diminishes the value of getting a CCIE.

The CCIE has never been about building a modern network. It has never been focused on creating anything other than a medium-sized enterprise network in the case of the routing and switching exam. It is not a test of best practices or of greenfield deployment scenarios. Instead, it has been a test of interoperability with an exisiting architecture. It tests the ability of the candidate to add devices and protocols to a stable existing network.

Other flavors of the CCIE test over different protocols or technologies, but the idea is still the same. The only one that even comes close to requiring programming is the CCIE Collaboration, which tests over the ability to customize Cisco Contact Center scripts. Otherwise, each test focuses on technology implementation and not architecture or operation.

Current logic dictates that people don’t want to take the CCIE because it doesn’t teach programming or API interaction. Yet candidates are showing up in droves. It’s almost as if the networks we have today are going to need to be maintained and built out over the coming years. These are the kinds of tasks that are well suited to a support-focused certification like the CCIE. The ideal CCIE candidate isn’t using Vagrant and Chef in a lab somewhere. They’re muddling through OSPF to RIP distribution somewhere in the dark corners of a network that got welded on after an acquisition.

Is Everyone A CCIE?

One thing I have noticed about the CCIE is the fact the number climb seems to have leveled off. It’s not the rapid explosion of certifications that it has been in the past, nor is it the eventual cliff of increased difficulty. Things seem to be marching more toward steady growth. I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to factors like the Cisco official CCIE training program or the upgrade to version 5 almost two years ago.

Lots of CCIEs doesn’t necessarily mean that the test has lost meaning. Microsoft had several thousand MCSEs by the time the certification became a punchline to countless call center jokes. Novell had a virtual army of Certified NetWare Engineers (CNEs) before software changes locked many of them into CNE 5 or CNE 6. Having a lot of certified individuals doesn’t devalue the certificaiton. It’s what people do with it that creates the reputation. Ask and Novell Certififed Directory Engineer (CDE) about the reputation garnered by a test and they can give you a lesson in hard exams that breed bright engineers.

Does that mean that we should brace ourselves for even more CCIEs in the future? It likely won’t be as bad as has been imagined. The written exam for version 5 has pointed out to me that Cisco is going to start closing ranks around technologies in the near future. The written exam serves as a testing ground for potential new topics on the exam. MPLS was a written topic long before it became a potential lab exam topic. The current written exam is full of technologies that make me think Cisco is starting to put more emphasis on the Cisco and less on the Internetworking in CCIE.

Cisco wants to have a legion of certified individuals that think about Cisco technology benefits. That’s why we’re starting to see a shift toward things like DMVPN and GETVPN in testing. In place of industry standard protocols, we get the Cisco improved versions. This locks candidates into the Cisco method of thinking and ensures that their go-to solutions will include some form of proprietary technology.

If this shift in thinking is really the start of the new way of certification testing, I worry for the future of the CCIE. Not because there are 50,000 CCIEs, but because the new inductees into the CCIE group will be focused on creating islands of Cisco in the sea of interoperable data center networks. That’s good for Cisco’s bottom line, but bad for the reputation of the CCIE. Could you imagine what would happen if a CCIE walked in and told you they couldn’t fix your MPLS VPN configuration issues because “I only know how to work on DMVPN”?

Tom’s Take

Every time someone I know passes the CCIE it makes me happy that they’ve completed a rigorous exam testing process. It tells me this person knows how to follow the lab instructions to create an interoperable enterprise network based on constraints. It also tells me that this person knows how to study material and doesn’t give up. Those are the kinds of people I would want in my networking group.

CCIEs are the perfect people to learn more modern network techniques like programmability and SDN. Not because they learned how to do it on their test. But because they are the kinds of people that learn well and will apply everything they have to picking up a new concept. But it needs to be pointed out here that Cisco must foster that kind of interoperable learning experience with CCIEs. Focusing too heavily on proprietary solutions to help create an army of unknowing Cisco SEs in the field will only serve to hurt Cisco in the future when that group of certified individuals must learn to work in the world of networking post-SD.


The Blame Pipeline

wc_pipeline sketch

Talk to any modern IT person about shifting the landscape of how teams work and I can guarantee you that you’ll hear a bit about DevOps as well as “siloed” organizational structures. Fingers get pointed in all directions as to the real culprit behind dysfunctional architecture. Perhaps changing the silo term to something more appropriate will help organizations sort out where the real issues lie.

You Dropped A Bomb On Me

Silos, or stovepipes, are an artifact of reporting structures of days gone by. Greg Ferro (@EtherealMind) has a great piece on the evils of ITIL. In it, he talks about how the silo structure creates blame passing issues and lack of responsibility for problem determination and solving.

I think Greg is spot on here. But I also think that the love of blame extends in the other direction too. It is one thing to have the storage team telling everyone that the arrays are working so it’s not their problem. It’s another issue entirely when the CxO-level folks come down from the High Holy Boardroom to hunt for heads when something goes wrong. They aren’t looking to root out the cause of the issue. They want someone to blame.

That’s where the silo comes in. The vertical integration and focus on team disciplines means the CTO/CIO/CFOO get to find out which particular technology was responsible for the issue and blame those people. Modern IT organizations revel in blame assignment. What they want more than anything is to find out who is responsible and berate them until they feel vindicated.

Silos aren’t organizational structures. They are pipelines that allow management to find “responsible” parties and get their retribution for any problems that happen. The focus lies solely on punishing the guilty rather than correcting the problem. Which leads to people not wanting to be challenged outside of their team environment for fear that they’ll get double the blame when something goes wrong.

Trans-Organizational Pipeline

How can we fix this issue with silos and stovepipes? Think for a moment about the physical structures that we use to model them. Silos and stovepipes are all vertical. They might as well be using sewer pipes for a visual representation. After all, the crap does flow downhill.

A better model for the modern IT environment should be the horizontal pipeline. These would be more like oil transport pipelines or other precious materials. Rather than focus on storing things vertically, horizontal pipelines are all about getting raw materials to a processing facility. There isn’t time to waste along the way. Product moves from one location to the next rapidly.

That’s how teams should function. Resources should be allocated and processed. Equipment should be installed and configured. Applications should be installed and be operational. No time to waste. But who should do it? Which team gets the vote?

The reality of the world is that this kind of implementation style needs a cross-sectional horizontal team. Think about the old episodes of Mission: Impossible. The IMF didn’t pick the disguise team to infiltrate or the computer team to hack door locks. They found one or two people with the unique skills to get the job done and focused them on their task. And when the impossible mission was completed everyone went on their merry way back to real life.

In the case of IT teams, new technology products like hyperconvergence and programmable networking require the inputs of many different disciplines. Creating ad-hoc teams like the IMF can go a long way to helping stagnant IT departments rapidly embrace new technology. The rapid implementation approach leads to great things.

But what about the blame? After all, CxOs love to point fingers when things go wrong? How does a horizontal team help? The best way to treat this kind of issue is to remember that these new, smaller cross-functional teams have a much larger atomic unit than traditional silos. A CTO can blame an individual on the storage team for a failure. But in a cross-discipline team, it is the team that is responsible for success or failure. Blame, if any, resides with the team itself and not the people that comprise it. That kind of insulation helps individuals rise above the fear of committing egregious errors and instead embrace the kinds of thinking needed to make new IT happen.

Tom’s Take

The best teams don’t happen by accident. It takes effort to make a group of people across disciplines work together to make amazing things happen. The best way to make this happen is to form the team and get out of the way. No blame shifting. No segregation of skills. Just putting awesome people together and seeing what happens.

The sooner we stop putting silos around teams for ease of management the sooner we will find that people are capable of amazing feats of technology. Let’s turn those blame pipelines into something infinitely more useful.


This WAN Is Your WAN, This WAN Is My WAN

Straw Bales on Hill Landscape, Tuscany, Italy

Straw Bales on Hill Landscape, Tuscany, Italy

Ideas coalesce all the time in every vertical. You don’t really notice it until you wake up one day and suddenly everything around you looks identical. Wireless becoming the new access layer. Flash storage taking hold of the high end performance crown. And in networking we have the dominance of all things software defined. One recent development has coming along much faster than anyone could have predicted: Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN).

Automatic For The People

SD-WAN is a force in modern networking because people want simplicity. While Ivan does a great job of decoupling marketing from reality, people still believe that SD-WAN is the silver bullet that will fix all of their WAN woes. Even during the original discussions of SD-WAN technology at conferences like ONUG, the overriding idea wasn’t around tying sites together or driving down costs to the point of feasibility. It was all about making life easier.

How does SD-WAN manage to accomplish this? It’s all black box networking. Just like the fuel injector in your car. There’s no crying about interoperability or standards-based protocols. You just plug things in and it all works, even if you can’t exactly plug one vendor solution into a competitor. Lock in wins again.

The ideas behind SD-WAN aren’t exactly new. Cisco talked about SD-WAN quite a bit at Networking Field Day 10. Here’s Jeff Reed on it:

The rest of the two hour session details how Cisco is using their Intelligent WAN (IWAN) product to drive SD-WAN. The names of the components all sound very familiar to networkers: DMVPN, NBAR, PfR, and so on. That’s because SD-WAN uses a lot of tried-and-true techniques to tie the concept together. There’s nothing earth-shattering about SD-WAN under the hood. In fact, a fair number of people that work at the “pioneering” SD-WAN startups all seem to have their roots in one or more traditional networking companies.

Fables of Reconstruction

Look at the other presenters at Networking Field Day 10. Two of them announced SD-WAN solutions even though they aren’t really known for expertise in SD-WAN. One of them wasn’t even known as a branch office acceleration solution. So why the SD-WAN land rush all of the sudden? What’s behind the need to have a solution?

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a lot of investors are backing expansion into SD-WAN technologies. It’s a hot property. But why? As above, customers aren’t interested in the technical wizardry that goes into SD-WAN. They aren’t clamoring for it to supplant their current WAN solution and offer a Rosetta Stone of inter-vendor WAN cooperation. What’s behind the push?

It probably goes something like this:

  1. Technologist needs to implement WAN architecture. Is dismayed that things are so difficult.
  2. Technologist starts searching for solutions about WAN. They probably start asking friends about it.
  3. Analyst firm hears that technologists are asking about WAN solutions. Releases a questionnaire asking which technologies you’d like to learn more about.
  4. Responses to questionnaires are loaded into a graph or report that people buy because they don’t know who to talk to.
  5. Companies realize customers want WAN solutions. They break their necks to offer those solutions to keep up with demand.
  6. Investors see companies beginning to offer WAN solutions and think there’s a huge untapped market. They start funding anyone that mentions WAN in a meeting.

By the way, you can replace “WAN” with any technology above and it still works.

Thanks to customers needing a solution for something they can’t configure easily they are going to be inundated with SD-WAN options by the time they turn around. And the biggest concern no long becomes “Who has the easiest solution?” but instead, “Who is still going to be here in six months?”

Collapse Into Now

The reckoning is coming in the SD-WAN market. If a company doesn’t already have an SD-WAN solution in development or if their solution won’t see daylight for another nine months, they are going to exercise the second “B” of innovation and buy it. And they have a lot of prime targets to choose from.

Investors get cagey without an exit strategy. How are they going to win at this game? They either have to get paid with an IPO, with a later round of funding, or by having someone buy out the investment. If an investor thinks they can get their money back (plus a bit of interest) by having this little startup bought by a traditional networking vendor you can better believe they will be advising the startup to sell.

The customers are the real losers in the case of a buyout, or worse a bankruptcy. Those highly proprietary solutions become dead weight if there isn’t any support for them any longer. Black box networking falls apart when the little magical creatures inside the box go away. Which means customers will be skittish of supporting a solution that is likely to go away any time soon.

Who will you support? An established vendor slow to roll out a solution? Or an up-and-coming company with new ideas but at risk of being snapped up by a big bank account?

Tom’s Take

I loved seeing all the SD-WAN discussion at Networking Field Day 10. SD-WAN is no longer magic sauce that aggregates DSL and MPLS circuits with encryption. Nuage Networks showed off deploying Docker apps to remote sites. Riverbed talked about using their WAN optimization experience to deploy SaaS solutions through SD-WAN.

We’ve heard from SD-WAN companies in the past at Networking Field Day. It’s interesting to hear the comparisons between the upstarts and the old geezers. It’s clear there is a ton of money that is being invested in SD-WAN. The trick is to find out your needs and pick the best solution for you. Otherwise you may find yourself losing your SD-WAN religion.


Why Are These Slides Marked Confidential?


Imagine you’re sitting in a presentation. You’re hearing some great information from the presenter and you can’t wait to share it with your colleagues or with the wider community. You are just about to say something when you look in the corner of the slide and you see…

Confidential Information

You pause for a moment and ask the presenter if this slide is a secret or if you should consider it under NDA. They respond that this slide can be shared with no restrictions and the information is publicly available. Which raises the question: Why is a public slide marked “confidential”?

I Fought The Law

The laws that govern confidential information are legion. Confidential information is a bit different than copyrighted information or intellectual property that has been patented. In most cases, confidential information is treated as a trade secret. Trade secrets can be harmful if they are divulged, since a trade secret can’t be patented.

A great example is the formula for Coca-Cola. If they tried to patent it they would have to write down all the ingredients. While that would protect the very specific formulation of their drink it would also allow their competitors to create something extremely similar with a few changes and create a viable competitor. Coca-Cola chooses to protect this information by ensuring it isn’t widely known. It ranks right up there with nuclear launch codes and Star Search results.

How does the concept of trade secrets and confidential information apply to slides? Well, one of the provisions of confidential information is that distribution must be controlled somehow. This means that you can’t just hand out information to anyone walking by on the street and hope that it stays confidential. You have to control distribution through confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Most of the times you are seeing slides marked “confidential” you have implicitly agreed to some kind of confidentiality agreement. You are either covered by an NDA from your employer or from the event you are attending. Even if you didn’t sign an agreement it can still be argued in a court of law that you were invited to the presentation which means the presenter was selective in who could attend. That should meet the requirements of protecting distribution of the information.

I Shouldn’t Have Said That

The other reason why you see slides prominently marked as confidential is because the law says they have to be to be protected. A company can’t release information not bearing a confidential mark and then suddenly decide after the fact that said information should have been confidential. Could you imagine a world where companies routinely try to remove sensitive information from public knowledge because it isn’t flattering? What if they could use an ex post facto declaration to restrict distribution?

Confidential information has to be treated and marked as such from the very beginning to qualify for protection. In order to make sure that there is no chance for a slip up most companies will mark anything remotely sensitive to ensure it won’t come back to bite them later.

But why put the confidential marking on slides that you’re going to show to the world? What if those slide get uploaded to the Internet and shared all over the world as often happens? What purpose could it serve?

The reason to mark slides as confidential is to make sure you can restrict their use whenever you want. Rarely are slides uploaded by a company with a confidential marking. In order for something to be uploaded it has to be cleared through a legal department. So if there are slides out there that exist with a confidential marking it’s more likely someone uploaded them without explicit permission. Which isn’t a bad thing in general.

What if a competitor gets a copy of the slides and starts using the information? Or better yet, what if they use it in a marketing campaign against the company?

If the slide is marked as “confidential”, that allows the company to use legal means to remove the information or disallow use of the information. It means that rather than just complaining or fighting a marketing battle that heavier means can be used to take down anything embarrassing. It’s also more lasting to bar anyone from mentioning anything listed on a confidential slide.

Tom’s Take

I agree that the whole legal need to label everything short of your underwear as “confidential” is just plain stupid. This is the same legal system that says trademarks must be defended to be protected. But the rules are the rules. Which means that any company that wants to protect confidential information must mark it that way from the genesis of the concept. And having the ability to protect those assets also means dealing with misleading marks long after the information has entered the wild. Just make sure you ask the right questions before divulging anything that could be considered confidential.