When Cisco Systems Inc., the global leader in Internet networking systems, and SAP AG, the industry giant in business software, started releasing joint solutions–products of their recent partnership to develop an integrated "ecosystem" for automating governance, risk and compliance–there were audible sighs of relief in countless corporate IT and finance offices across the country. These folks, after all, have been confronted in the last few years with some 450 applications in the GRC space, designed to deal with the more than 114,000 government regulations that have been passed since 1990 dealing with governance and compliance. "It's an IT nightmare right now, if you have to buy maybe 50of those applications, and make them all work together," says Amit Chatterjee, SAP's senior vice president of governance, risk and compliance. "We're trying to make it so you invest in the technology only once, and you deal with all those regulations."

Not to sound like a Verizon commercial, but the key to this innovative partnership boils down to the network–in this case, SAP's and Cisco's service-oriented network architecture and the vast possibilities opened up by their loose coupling. "Without Cisco, once data went into Excel, and then got pasted onto an e-mail, we at SAP couldn't do anything with it," says Chatterjee. With the Cisco link, however, SAP's software can monitor 10 million e-mails in milliseconds.

Take the dilemma posed in data privacy–when, for instance, social security numbers inadvertently end up in e-mails. "We know you cannot just let social security numbers be sent out of the company," Chatterjee says. "But if someone includes social security numbers in an e-mail, then within our ERP, there's no way we can spot it. With Cisco's SONA, however, every time we find nine digits in a message, we can stop it automatically before it goes outside the firewall." Potentially offending messages would get sent back to IT, he says, where they could be checked for violations of SSN privacy rules.

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