Having recently attended and spoken at the 25th COSAC/ SABSA world congress held at the Killashee House hotel in Naas, Ireland the experience is still fresh and my mind has been pondering how they manage to do what they do so well.

The Search for Value

How can practitioners, academics and professionals search for value in a seemingly fully connected, internetworked peer to peer world? How do good conferences add and create the value that cannot be captured and created by electronic means? After all, Google and YouTube are the modern ultimate knowledge sharing sites, open 24/7 and free to access.

The truth is that we all inhabit our own networks of value, associated with work, family or association membership. These networks can either be peer to peer or hierarchical (as leaders and followers), and this leads to a multiplicity of practice and meanings. Sticking to the same, closed networks enables a richer flow of information to be passed, and communication and trust can grow. In this way, network closure lowers the risk of trust and can facilitate the co-operation between peers that fosters innovation.

Shared Experience

However, although they are interconnected, closed networks suffer from problems of isolation, meaning that ‘structural holes’ in the realisation of full network value are missed. We don’t know what it is that we don’t know without connecting to other environments, and this can lead to ‘structural holes’ in our knowledge. These structural holes between networks can be overcome by the use of brokerage. COSAC acts as an intermediary for individuals interested in enterprise security and architectures to meet under common cause, to share experience, best practice and discuss the matters (sometimes difficult) that are common to, and unique to the networks of the individuals that attend.

This reduces the effect of ‘network echo’ where our own networks tend to reinforce our existing predispositions, especially for leaders, who are often more embedded in their own networks. Echo reinforces group views without the challenge of having to change our opinions or seek new perspectives on problems.

Realising Relational Value

The relational and social capital released by this brokerage, of meeting at a location that is unfamiliar yet common to all, away from the turbine blades of work, allows the value to be released because of the presence of trust. Trust is required because in closing the network holes incompletely formed and previously disconnected ideas become formed into new and innovative patterns of thought that can be tested and tried out in a safe environment.

The ‘echo’ of the closed network can be supplanted by the discussion between people sharing experiences and knowledge to others for whom those direct observations are not present. Echo becomes Bandwidth, an extra dimension of interconnection that spans the restrictions of the existing structures. The weak ties between the larger networks are strengthened by the stronger, richer, interpersonal ties between professionals, realising the value of connections unseen and unobserved in isolation.

Summary

For over 25 years now, COSAC has provided all this and more, acting as a forum to directly stimulating innovation and the diffusion of ideas in an atmosphere of trust and respect. The standard of care for attendees is second to none, and I would recommend anyone who has an interest in enterprise security architecture to attend. The organisers provide a packed itinerary in a beautiful location and many of the informal conversations went on much longer.

I enjoyed it immensely. It is an experience and recipe that cannot be repeated online and I would recommend finding out more at the COSAC.Net website.

 

Further Reading

Granovetter, M.S., 1977. The strength of weak ties. In Social networks (pp. 347-367).

Burt, R.S., 2017. Structural holes versus network closure as social capital. In Social capital (pp. 31-56). Routledge.