Back in the early days of the Internet, companies and government agencies connected up and started to use email as a means of communication beyond the usual LAN restricted email within the office. This was novel it was new. It was seen as the new method of business communication. It also became the new method of social communication. Over time the bean counters and bureaucrats looked at this communications tool and saw that it was in fact taking up too much of the younger staff product work time. So email was restricted to senior and key personnel and the walls around the corporate communications structure where re-enforced rebuild. The same thing happened with the Web. It’s was given open rein, until it was perceived to be consuming corporate productivity, and so it was restricted to a few key personnel.
Does this sound familiar. Is this happening again? Let’s think about Social Networking and related Instant Messaging systems. These are now being painted as the bad boys on the block by the Australian Media, as pointed out by Laurel Papworth and Stephen Collins maybe there is more to this. Like email and the Web in general before them does Web based Social Networking deserve this reputation, or is it just the media attracting eyeballs and selling copy with it’s usual expect bad journalistic style.
Let’s look closer at this. Why do some organizations allow unfretted access to all but socially sensitive aspect of the internet (which is understandable). While other organizations will barely allow external email access or even the use of external telecommunications basics such as mobile phones or the simple land line telephone.
In the main we have to look at why people restrict such communications. This is an area in which I understand the viewpoints of senior management concerned. Now I may not agree with them but I do understand them. Often the motivations come down to:
Fear of the Unknown
Computers are still very new to many people in middle to senior management. They rely on the media (technical and main stream) and other sources to educate and help formulate their options. These people are within the lost Internet generation, to old to be retired and have taken up an interest in the Internet, but not young enough to consider a computer and the Internet as commonplace. Any demonstrated business advantage of the Internet is outweighed by this fear, fear of the “what if”, fear of the unknown. Fear that the Internet is associated with all of societies ills.
Usage of computer and accessing of the related Internet services can be measured and logged. This gives an easy to quantify value for managers and bean counters to determine the KPIs in relation to Internet usage. Compare this to the usual wasted productivity in office gossip or talk around the coffee machine. This can’t be measured easily. It’s human nature to go with the easiest target. Hence anything computer related is fair game.
You can understand the concern to protect against leaks of information with a corporate environment. Many a company or career has been destroyed over an email leak. What you ideally want to do is restrict your staff access to the outside world while they work for you to the absolute minimum. Hence remove external email, web even phone access (Yes I know a cases of this happening even today). The less distractions the better. Social Networks are no different they are just another threat to the security of the corporate computing environment.
One interesting point is usually you can trace back a poilcy within an organisation for blocking these means of modern communications back to one person. This stereotypically a middle aged non progressive IT manager that just wants to control everything. We have all encountered this type of person. In many cases the likelihood of them remotely understanding Social Networking is extreme as they have yet to come to terms with the Web itself.
On the upside things will change, they did with email and the Web (in general) the corporate firewalls will comedown as these naysayers and aging dinosaurs shuffle out of positions of corporate responsibility.