Sara Gates: What makes Wisegate different from other social networks and what popular information security topics are being discussed right now

Wisegate is an invitation-only community where senior IT professionals meet to candidly exchange knowledge and solve problems with their peers. By enforcing strict membership guidelines, which require a senior-level position and exclude vendors from joining, Wisegate is able to provide members with unmatched direct access to senior-level IT colleagues and quality content. Wisegate’s mission is to make its members’ jobs less stressful and more productive by providing the social knowledge network that professionals need to collaborate and share experiences within a closed community of highly qualified IT peers.

In the following interview, Sara Gates, CEO and Founder of Wisegate, discusses 1:1 with Info Security PG, Editor-in-Chief of Info Security Products Guide, what makes Wisegate different than other social networks and the popular information security topics being discussed right now.

Info Security PG, Editor-in-Chief: In this era of social networking, how are meaningful networks on the decline?

Sara Gates: Our members tell us all the time that their true peer networks are on the decline – meaning those they know & trust and can reach out to via email or a phone call when they have questions. The first reason for this is that people are busy, and networking, without a specific purpose, is more of a burden than a help. They don’t have time for it. One senior IT guy told me for example that there are 22 people he needs to be in contact with because they could help each other, and he does an ok job of keeping in sync with 5-6 of them. The second reason is that, over time, most people’s networks become very centered around their current company. One member, who has worked for a huge bank for a dozen years, told me that over those years his network has become very centered around employees at the bank while his outside network has shrunk quite a lot. Finally, our professional networks and our trusted circle of people in jobs just like ours are not the same thing. We give people access to the latter.

Loves long walks on the beach, lite beer and the Bee Gees. Kidding. This is Sara’s 3rd start up. After her last start up, Waveset, was bought by Sun Microsystems, she spent several years running Sun’s Identity Management business. The idea for Wisegate had been dawning on her and finally reached a point where she had to do something about it. So in 2010 she got off her duff and got to building it.

Info Security PG: How is Wisegate different than other social networks or online communities?

Sara Gates: Wisegate is different for a few reasons. First, if you sell anything to our members, you are not allowed to join. There is no selling on Wisegate. This means that the noise level is very low and the help level is very high. Even if you are a senior IT guy but you work for a company that sells to IT, you are not eligible to join. We are also different because you have to qualify to join, and qualifying means you are senior enough in your career and your IT environment is big & complex. Also, we are specifically structured to help our members in their day-to-day jobs and decisions. So, it is not a free-for-all forum environment, but a specifically structured site whose goal is to help get info to our members quickly. We provide matching capabilities so that members can sort content by their industry, their company size, their role (e.g., discussions, polls, product reviews). Everyone’s boss is always asking them “what are other banks (or contracting or healthcare companies) doing?” We let members answer that question by simply taking 20 seconds to pose it. Another key difference is that we are serving very senior technologists who are uber-busy so we offer member concierge services to make it easy for them to contribute and get answers; with this service, they talk and we take care of posting for them and members can email questions and answers and we take care of getting it on the site and to the community. Finally, our matching service means we get questions in front of the members who have expertise in that area; we can target who sees what questions.

Info Security PG: What are the demographics of Wisegate’s membership base and what type of information do members share with each other? Are there any opportunities for members to meet in person too?

Sara Gates: The cool thing is they talk about what is on their mind right now – topics where they need to take a pulse from peers on what others are thinking, doing and have experienced. Members share information on current challenges they are working through like GRC, SIEM and IAM product evaluations, BYOD policies and technology implementations. They also talk a lot about hiring, staffing and people problems. Interestingly there are a lot of conversations about mistakes they have made and what they learned from those mistakes.

With Wisegate, members meet 3 ways: on the site, in member-to-member topical conference calls and in regional meet-ups.

Info Security PG: Isn’t sharing critical challenges with peers from other organizations a major confidentiality issue i.e. senior IT professionals are openly admitting they don’t have a solution yet?

Sara Gates: This is a great question. The thing is, we in this industry are accustomed to the risk of making decisions without knowledge from experienced peers, which in fact can reduce the decision risk significantly. The risk of sharing our questions to get better information and to be better informed is new and a good idea. It’s a new risk but the reality is, none of us have all the answers. One member who shared an in-depth product implementation experience with us said “that was cathartic!” once we wrapped up the interview. Another told me that once he became accustomed to asking, he has now come to rely on always having the Wisegate “dial-tone” to get access into peers’ experience with the issues of the day.

Info Security PG: What are the popular information security topics that are being discussed within the community right now?

Sara Gates: BYOD is hot. Practical tips on navigating the labyrinth of compliance demands is hot and topical among privacy officers. Cyber security collaboration is hot. Hiring mistakes, what I’ve learned and how I now hire technical talent & technical managers is hot. Encryption – where I am and what’s holding me back from doing more. Risk of and policy on employees accessing social media sites from the company network. Product selection and implementation lessons learned on security products including Threat Management, GRC, SIEM, Identity & Access Management, DLP/data security.

Company: Wisegate | Austin, Texas, USA

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