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ChoicePoint: The database broker tops the loser list both literally and figuratively after emerging as the poster child for corporate data insecurity. In September 2004, the company's customer authentication processes were compromised; impostors accessed 145,000 records containing sensitive information. Amazingly, the company waited until the following February to publicly disclose the breach, resulting in at least 750 cases of identity theft. Sure, there were plenty of other companies that fell prey to hackers and bad data management -- and shame on them (i.e., LexisNexis and DSW). But ChoicePoint takes the prize because of its failure to manage the crisis appropriately. Not only did it wait some five months before notifying customers who were victims, it also seemingly underestimated the extent of the damage, adding another 17,000 names just last month in its quarterly report to the SEC. And to top it all, customers later reported the company offered to sell them their information so they could see what had been compromised. ChoicePoint has since offered free search reports of public records information.
Research In Motion: Forget the recent decision from a U.S. District Court judge refusing to delay NTP's patent infringement case or force the company to accept a $450 million settlement from RIM. Forget the fact the same judge may force RIM to halt BlackBerry sales and shut down service. Forget a separate lawsuit RIM has filed against a Cape Cod company that named its Web application CranBerry (apparently all berries are off limits). The damage has been done … and the company's reputation has been so badly tarnished that several competitors, including Microsoft, are announcing alternative mobile operating systems.
Wi-Fi: After a couple of big years, Wi-Fi finds itself at a crossroads. 802.11-based, short-range wireless networking technology has taken hits from all sides, most notably where security is concerned. Though vendors claim their products are secure, public wireless networks have become petri dishes for virulent attackers preying on the unprepared. Even the largest companies find their networks vulnerable in ways they never expected. For better or worse, Wi-Fi has also extended the perimeter of most corporate networks. While access may be more ubiquitous from a number of new mobile devices, it is now more difficult to secure information not only inside the company's walls, but also on devices that may travel around the world. And it's not like standards have been much help. Infighting has stalled a new high-speed standard. A process expected to be finished a year ago will now stretch into 2006, forcing companies waiting on high-speed gear to extend their plans. Plus, the emergence of WiMax and EV-DO threatens to further erode Wi-Fi's popularity.
Carly Fiorina: Maybe that Compaq merger wasn't such a good idea? Getting bounced as CEO of Hewlett-Packard alone may not be enough to merit a spot on the losers list, but when the company turns things around in your absence (see below) and word starts spreading that you're planning to join Schwarzenegger as his lieutenant governor one month before the Terminator's approval numbers hit an all-time low … well, then you're a shoo-in.
… and the winners are
Ray Ozzie: Selling your company to Microsoft, taking over as chief technology officer in Redmond instead of retiring to the Caribbean and then penning a memo on software as a service that some expect to have the same impact as Bill Gates' "Internet Tidal Wave" message of 1995 is enough to land you on the winners list. Even if you hadn't invented Lotus Notes.
HP Storage: A not-so-proud member of last year's losers list, thanks to poor earnings and declining market share, HP certainly turned things around in 2005. After high-profile CEO Carly Fiorina stepped down, the company released a long list of OEM deals for its storage line, bought the leading storage management software company AppIQ and brought a renewed focus to the storage market.
Mark Shearer: After just one year on the job, the iSeries general manager has left his mark on Big Blue. The tide began to turn in Q1 when the iSeries saw 1% year-over-year growth. It was hardly a celebration for IBM brass, but it showed the line had finally stopped bleeding. Revenue then jumped 20% in Q2, reaching the "double digit" growth marker IBM has always seen as a sign of real progress, and it blew off the charts in Q3.
Oracle acquisition targets: Whether you're Siebel Systems ($5.85 billion), Retek ($670 million), ProfitLogic (undisclosed) or smaller players like Thor, OctetSting or Oblix, 2005 was a good year for Oracle to take an interest in your company. The database giant went on a shopping spree in 2005, swallowing up security, retail and application vendors. On the CRM front, vendors that have been battling Siebel for years -- like SAP and Saleforce.com -- can count themselves winners, as Oracle and Siebel get distracted by the chaos inherent in acquisitions. But that may not last long.
Cisco Systems: Another year, another dominant performance. The networking giant continues to lead all major networking markets and is raking in the profits. Though it faced security challenges due to several IOS flaws and pressure from investors who want to see continued stock growth (a challenge for a company operating largely in commoditized markets), the company has reacted tactically and strategically. It has advanced into new markets that complement its existing business, such as network access control storage networking, application-oriented networking and now IPTV, which will likely be a huge focus going forward, as it creates perhaps the single biggest opportunity for technologies that increase bandwidth or utilize it more efficiently.
VoIP: Another winner that has maintained its position from last year's list. Moving to Voice over Internet Protocol is no longer a question of "if" for most organizations -- it's a question of "when." Research now says VoIP will account for at least 74% of corporate telephony lines by the end of the decade. The technology has benefited from hundreds of successful corporate trials and increased consumer buzz, proving that even though VoIP may sometimes mean a slight performance downgrade from plain old telephone service, the quality and reliability of enterprise-caliber systems is sufficient for widespread implementation.