Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing and managing productivity tools so as to encourage and promote productivity – 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on December 15, 2012

This is my third installment in a follow-up series in which I seek to outline core issues related to personal use of business-provided and work-supportive information technology (see Part 1 and Part 2. And my area of focus for this installment is the bring your own technology movement.

To put this part of this overall discussion into context and clarify how bring your own tech fits into the context of use of business-provided technical systems, I note that when employees bring their own devices they use them in a business context and often by connecting into resources such as business-provided wireless bandwidth. But there is a lot more to this than simply the question of tapping into wireless bandwidth. Access to a blend of outside and business-owned information resources, and employee productivity enter this too. And with that in mind I begin this posting by citing two points that should be familiar to anyone who works in a business of virtually any type where online connectivity is an important business resource – these days that means essentially any and every business.

• There is widespread pressure on the part of many if not most business departments to limit access to and use of social media sites, online streaming music and video sites and all sorts of other online resources that can be entertaining, but that take up vast amounts of time and attention and bandwidth when pursued while on the job. This set of issues definitely involves Information Technology and Risk Management, but demands to limit availability and use of these online channels can also come from Operations, Finance or virtually any other functional area or service too.
• But as soon as employees bring their own technology to work with them, it becomes much more difficult if not effectively impossible to stop this type of activity – and whether these employee owned technology resources are only used for personal use or whether they are also used for work-related activities as well.

I would argue that any simple hard and fast rule attempting to block out any access to, or use of any and all social media at work, or online music sites or other “problem” sites will only fail, as attempts to simply and indiscriminately block everything will simply set the business up for what amounts to an arms race with its own employees. And the cost of continually trying to stay one step ahead can with time come to exceed any savings from reduction in non-work information technology use and even when potential risk factor costs are added in. So it can make a lot more sense to selectively offer access to these employee attracting options and resources. And that leads me to what might be the single most important point I could make here, and I write this as someone who came into business from Information Technology and an IT perspective:

• This is not, fundamentally, a technology problem. Information Technology may have to play a major role in helping to both define the problem in working detail, and develop hands-on solutions for implementing any policy arrived at.
• But if this is only handled by Information Technology and if policy here is only developed from an IT perspective, the result will almost certainly be that business versus employee arms race with the costs it creates an ongoing and unending challenge. And I have to add employee resentment as a source of cost there as well as managerial dissatisfaction and the stress of having business owners and their employees seeing themselves at odds with each other.
• Ultimately, the underlying policy that Information Technology and others would help to implement has to be a Human Resources policy. First and foremost acknowledgment of the bring your own technology movement, and a business’ response to it in attempt to limit costs and risk, have to be built into Personnel policy. And this policy should coordinately mesh with and work with overall Human Resources policy and practice and with the overall business strategy framework in place.

And I state that, fully aware of the fact that Human Resources personnel rarely hold expertise in the technology that enters into the bring your own tech movement, or its range of potential applications. So I am writing here of a need for a very strong, flexible, dynamically evolving collaboration between Information Technology and I add other hands-on services, and Human Resources. They have to be able to speak the same language and they need to understand each other’s perspectives and underlying assumptions to make this work.

I have intentionally left at least one very important consideration out of this conversation up to here. That is the fact that many if not most businesses these day have, or at least are turning to develop their own social media channels. They can be used to reach outward to the marketplace and to outside communities. This can mean tapping into the outside conversation and external social media tools and channels to know what is being said about the business and to enter into those conversations. This can also mean adding social media into the internal conversations that would form a core component to any interactive intranet capability (see for example, Connecting an Organization Together, Version 2.0.) So a draconian attempt to simply cut off all access to online social media runs the risk of also denying a great many effective and even competitively crucial business capabilities.

• True, “good social media, etc.” can always be distinguished from “bad” with a maintained blacklist of URLs that cannot be accessed at work, at least through business-owned hardware.
• But this leaves out all of those employee-owned handhelds and tablets that are brought in, and makes those sites appear more alluring as forbidden fruit and certainly for mainstream online resources blocked.
• That also sets up yet another arms race where the blacklist has to be continually updated and maintained and with the time, effort and expenses that involves – for where blacklist blocking would even work.
• And that also would block access to outside social media sites that at least some employees would have to be able to access to follow the community and marketplace conversation as a part of their job – unless along with a blacklist, a list of employees exempt from at least some of its restrictions was being maintained and continually updated too.

Once again, this brings me back to the need to in effect defuse these challenges by offering acceptable and attractive social media and other potentially problematical access, and in controlled and approved ways. And a business can always subscribe to a third party provider blacklist identification service to help identify and block really problematical content such as pornography and child porn sites.

As a final set of thoughts for this posting I note that:

• Bring your own tech cannot simply be viewed separately from use of in-house information technology. To cite just one cause, employee users tap into business systems in order to use their devices and certainly where Wi-Fi or related connections are used. I note in this context that in-house wireless internet connectivity tends to offer greater bandwidth and smoother connections than do wireless phone system connections and even with G-3 and G-4 ready devices. And they can be available where phone signals are blocked or degraded by steel framework in building construction or from comparable causes.
• Offering attractive approved resources can lessen the use of more problematical resources. And along with sites that offer problematical content such as pornography, that can include sites that are more likely to be sending out malware and computer viruses too.
• And the cost of arms races always has to be taken into account, and the need to limit if not prevent potential employee versus business conflicts of interest and action.

At least as of now I am going to end this series, though I will definitely be coming back to further discuss some of the issues I have been discussing in it. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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