2016 is gone and we are now in the year 2017.

To start off, as is the custom, it behooves us to wish you much joy, serenity, and great adventures in the year ahead!

As we like to overheat our brains here at Hubrix, this start of a new year has us pondering why the New Year’s date is what it is. Who define  this arbitrary representation of passing time?

Julius Caesar, by introducing the Julian calendar in 46 BC., established the foundations of an arbitrary segmentation of passing time into different units. The concept of one day is understandable: one rotation of the earth upon its axis. A year, as a circuit of the earth around the sun (something Caesar could not know, his decision coming 1519 years before the birth of Copernicus). But months with 30, or 31, or 28 days … it feels a bit whimsical.

Pope Gregory XIII changed this in the sixteenth century to correct the secular drift of the Julian calendar that lost eight days per millennium. The main innovation of the Gregorian calendar is the establishment of leap years.

Our life is governed by arbitrary decisions sometimes dating back more than two millennia, and not always for the better! But as the world changes, our relationship to time does too (distances seem shorter than they were 100 years ago) and so do our needs.

The same goes for software and applications: users change, roles change, new uses emerge, but this is not always the case for the application itself . Indeed, we usually find the same arbitrary choices that seem immutable in software and applications we use, particularly in our area of interest: managing rights and permissions.

Who selected the predefined roles (Administrator, Manager, Author, User …) present in most applications? How could anyone think this would allow everyone to have the appropriate rights and access? As with months of 30 or 31 days, these choices have hardened like concrete. It was perhaps the peak of logic and common sense when these decisions were taken, but clearly those choices are no longer suitable. And unlike the number of days in a month, these IT choices have a tangible impact on our productivity, and our level of control over our own digital tools.

In fact, software architecture often fails to factor in the concept of time. The user experiences time of course, but too often, the software merely displaying a series of still images. Imagine if cinemas replaced all movies with slideshows!

Moreover, nowadays it is common to use subcontractors for various tasks (web agencies, freelancers …) that have a time-limited missions. These circumstances require flexibility in managing access rights that reflects the fluidity of roles and relationships between each player and the group. However, despite the increasing use of subcontractors, few applications make it easy to account for passing time in their access-control management.

This results in significant security flaws: if nobody thinks of removing a freelancer’s access to corporate systems, for example, that person will continue to have access to sensitive information until someone notices (in the best-case scenario).

Going further, one could imagine a future in which software can propose changes in user roles & rights, over time, based on various parameters, and the actual use of rights already granted.

Multiple arbitrary decisions govern our lives with a greater or lesser impact. Our sincere hope, our fervent wish for you at this dawn of 2017, is that your freedom and range of action are never limited by these kinds of decisions lost in the mists of time, their rationales largely forgotten.

Have you ever felt the effects, positive or negative, of
arbitrary decisions crystallized into formal policies?

Tell us about it!

Talk soon about new adventures,

Cyril.

Image Credit: Czech Astronomical Clock in Prague, © 2013 Andrew Shiva via Wikimedia Commons. Shared under Creative Commons license

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