The cone of silence

The cone of silence

With tongue in cheek, David Standingford, Lead Technologist, CFMS, talks about lifting ‘the cone of silence’, modernising digital engineering and remind ourselves 50’s TV series “Get Smart”.

How do you fit 100 secret agents into a car?  “Maxwell Smart and 99!” would be the hilarious answer from any kid in the playground when I was growing up.  Of course, to know this you would need to have seen the tongue-in-cheek 50’s TV series “Get Smart”, wherein the bumbling but by-the-book secret agent Maxwell Smart was aided in his various top-secret missions by the attractive and highly adept Agent 99.  

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Cone of Silence from Episode 1 ("Mr Big", 1965) of “Get Smart” [Wikipedia].

One of the many recurring gags in the series was the “cone of silence”.  When very important and secret information was to be discussed with the Chief, Smart would insist upon the lowering of plastic hemispheres over each of them in order to prevent unauthorised eavesdropping.  The joke – which never ceased to be funny – was that the “cone” also prevented Smart and the Chief from hearing each other.  They would shout more and more loudly – to the point where everyone else could hear both of them!

I think there are still some companies who are operating their digital operations under a cone of silence.  At a recent conference I overheard an earnest conversation between a software vendor and a potential client where the latter was being authoritatively advised, “the problem with the cloud is that it isn’t secure”. Really? That would be the same cloud that provides commercial content such as Netflix and Spotify, data storage such as Dropbox and Google Drive and the backend for the accounting packages Xero, Clearbooks and Kashflow.  Every one of these businesses requires both easy and controllable access and a high level of data security. I have a feeling that the reservations about cloud security were more to do with the cloud-readiness of the software being evangelised – but perhaps I’m being cynical …

If you are operating your engineering workflow from within the cone of silence, you really are missing out.  For high-end users, the cost of computing is much reduced when cloud capacity can be exploited, but this is just the start.  

The Internet has developed to enable rapidly reconfigurable communication links between customers, suppliers and partners in an age where the timescales for innovation are expected to keep accelerating despite the growing complexity of integrated products and services. The economic benefits – via specialisation and technical co-operation – arise through better use of capital computing equipment and the shared access to up-to-date product engineering data.     

Linking up digital engineering services is a natural and highly scalable business opportunity. Expertise, embedded into automated and repeatable processes drives efficiency plus transparency of data standards.  Exposing process interfaces via common Internet protocols allows quality assurance, outlier detection and the early identification of bottlenecks in workflows.  

So let’s lift the cone of silence and modernise digital engineering with, as Smart might put it, “the old cloud computing trick …”


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