Be a better Big Brother: Monitoring your coworkers

Corporations are recognizing the need to deploy surveillance technologies that track what employees are doing, but it could become a full-time job without the right IT. Follow this approach

Employee monitoring software is an amazingly useful, yet somewhat awkward technology. It can help your IT department weed out your worst time-wasters and layabouts — and even those who are sharing your corporate secrets. But while you may need to keep an eye on your employees, no IT or HR manager has the time to monitor the thousands of keystrokes that happen in a given work day across a busy network.

As a result, organizations that decide to “get tracking” have to make a few tough choices right off. Do you want a product that logs all keystrokes for later review? Do you want software that blocks Web sites and e-mail containing specific words or phrases? Or will you choose something more comprehensive that pushes reports to managers, allowing them to act on their suspicions to snare problem users?

The basic programs are cheaper, but they also require a bigger time commitment on the part of the IT or HR department. The solutions that can generate comprehensive reports can be more complex and costly.

Either way, says Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst at the Info-Tech Research Group, organizations should do it right or not at all. “It’s one of those things that, if you do it, you have to commit to it, regardless of whether you go low-tech or high-tech,” she says.

But not a lot of companies are making this commitment. The adoption of employee monitoring software is not yet very deep, especially in Canada, Perrier-Knox says. It’s more common in the US, particularly at companies with legal or regulatory mandates to meet.

Many companies block well-known sites such as Facebook and MySpace, or spot-read e-mail. But, in most cases, it’s a complaint, or concern around a specific employee, that leads an organization to decide to monitor that individual, explains Perrier-Knox.

Monitoring mavens Still, at least one company isn’t satisfied with random checks and targeting obvious offenders — and it’s paying off. An IT manager at a mid-sized law firm (who did not want to be identified) says his 50 licences of SpectorSoft’s Spector 360 has returned to the firm’s HR manager 30–40 per cent of her working hours.

This is a big improvement over the old monitoring software. Before, if one of the firm’s managers asked the HR manager to watch one employee, it would take her “literally days” to provide an answer about the nature of that person’s activity “by going through each screenshot and watching it like a movie and seeing what the person was doing,” says the IT manager. “It was just tedious and time-consuming,”

Using the Spector 360 product, she simply sends back an e-mail report produced by the software that details all computer usage of a problem employee. (The IT manager still recommends the executive go through the report carefully to gauge the seriousness of the offences). Managers in that group or department can then, for example, see a keystroke count or what sites were visited over a given time period. Then they can decide if they want to approach the person and take disciplinary action.

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Adam Pletsch

ComputerWorld Canada
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