D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

Monday, February 26, 2007 9:51 AM

I've heard this morning about another company where MSN has been banned as a mode of communication, this time under the banner of "Common Courtesy". Bull$h1t is what I say to that.

I worked at a company a few years back where they tried to implement the same sort of deal...they ended up switching to an internal-only MSN solution. Why was this ok? Because they could record and monitor all communicaitons that occur.

Oddly enough, both of these companies are run by people with sales backgrounds. Is this a coincidence? I think not.

Sales environments are typically cut-throat...you don't have a huge amount of trust, and its an "everyone fend for themselves" type of attitude regardless of their hollow cheers around teamwork and co-worker support.

What these owners don't realize is that you can't just apply those sort of policies company wide, especially in an IT environment where MSN is a staple in conversation. So why does MSN get banned in so many places:

1. Thinking that it wastes time. Is this a possibility? Sure. So is using the phone. So are cell phones. So is email! Are you going to ban those things as well? It's better to educate your people on proper-use policies instead of banning outright.

2. Control, Control, Control, Trust, Trust, Trust. Companies with executives that have control issues or trust issues see MSN as a threat because its un-moderated communication, and those employees MUST be plotting against the company instead of trying to make it better. Idiots.

Those are probably the two biggest reasons. Maybe if these people would take time to read up on business and consulting philosophy, such as how velocity plays into creating estimates, or reading books like the Mythical Man Month or 5 Dysfunctions of a Team to better understand how to get the most out of their people, or like taking project management and business analyst courses to understand how a PROPER software development house should operate...or better yet, get someone with REAL CEO experience to run your company and focus on areas that you're good at...like sales.

But no...these guys only know sales and only care about sales, and have no concern about how they screw over and burn out their employees so that dependants #1, 2, and 3 can get into college at some point.

I'm so tired of hearing this BS go on in our industry...but what can you do? The only thing is to warn your friends to stay away from the pits and point them to the mountains. And believe me...after working in the pits for a long time, I'm really enjoying the view I've got now. Too bad my friends can't enjoy it...



# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

Kind of freaky. We just got a "reminder" email this morning about IM abuse here at work and if it continued it may be banned for the department.

Very interesting and what a coincidence....

Normally this is a fairly relaxed workplace (which is why I have MSN and Google Talk both installed), so it will be interesting to here why this sudden reminder occurred (also makes me wonder if I was involved somehow....) 2/26/2007 10:16 AM | George

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

How big is your company? That's an example, in my mind, of management not doing their job correctly.

If there's a handful of people that are doing something wrong, IM or otherwise, then they should be spoken to directly about it...not just a blanket email that gets sent to everyone which creates paranoia about who's the cause of the new policy.

D 2/26/2007 10:21 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

I work in a company of over 4000 employees, and we have it banned due to security issues. A couple of times, some door knob let a virus loose inside the network. Thanks to good anti-virus they didn't do any damage, but they did bring the network to it's knees for a couple of hours until they brought the users PC offline. 2/26/2007 10:39 AM | thorkia

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

Good antivirus and network policy (i.e. ensuring that employees work with restricted priviledges) can ensure that MSN type programs can be run safely without worrying about viruses.

Do they also ban webmail? Viruses could enter through that way as well...I just hate how MSN gets villainized when the real issues are with policy, politics, and stupidity.

D 2/26/2007 10:45 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

D'Arcy, it's a medium size company, just over 100 employees and the email did exactly what you said. It's created paranoia and now all morning people are having whispered conversations about why the email was sent and what went on and wondering if they were somehow involved.

2/26/2007 11:03 AM | George

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

No, but they also banned all chat programs, not just MSN. As well as any IE plug-ins to avoid the spyware.

Well I agree that the web, and webmail, and email in general are a bigger security threat than IMs, IM is not as vital as email.

Now, I agree with you that most attempts to ban IMs are about control, I don't particularly see a problem with that. The PC you work on at work belongs to the company, and not you. That gives them the right to monitor it's usage, and what is on it at any time. It's not usually banned becuase they are worried about employees plotting to change things for better or worse, but merely becuase of productivity. Except for a few select functions, most job functions don't need IM, and would negatively impact there productivity. Take Payroll for example? Why would they need IM? How would it help them improve productivity? What about a call centre? It might help, but not as much as it would cost them in productivity. Now some groups legitmately need it, and in our company, can get approval if a director okays. Which they have done for my group. But most don't need, and so it's not approved as a general rule 2/26/2007 11:13 AM | thorkia

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

Just thought of another reason it's banned...

IP. Our company has a LOT of IP and Proprietary information that they want to control tightly. The monitor every web request, upload, and email for certain attachments as well.

With IM like Yahoo, or MSN, it is more difficult to do this. Although, with an internal IM solution, they could get the best of both worlds, and as I undertsand it, it is being looked at.

Sometimes the security is not about what gets into to the network, but what leaves. How would your company like it if you IM a copy of the source of the latest program you are working on to a friend, and it somehow ended up in the hands of a competitor? That wouldn't be a good situation. And with our company ( a Telco ), we have to deal with our competitors on a daily basis, and can't afford to have some information end up in there hands. 2/26/2007 11:18 AM | thorkia

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

George: That's horrible...so now instead of just dealing with the problem people, they've now created untrust within the whole orgnaization...not just that its about the IM, but who ratted out who...or who is in trouble...

Thorkia: Yes, its up to the company to determine what is allowed on their machines, absolutely. However, I liken banning MSN-type programs to a foreman telling his carpenters that they can't use a tape-measure at work...they need to use 12" rulers. Sure it does the job, but why limit your staff when there are communication tools outthere that can ENHANCE productivity?

I don't know that I agree with IM not being part of all departments. I think its another communication tool the same as a phone or email, just with quicker results. Now, who's available on IM is another story (i.e. are you connected to the outside world or are you connected to the internal directory). There's room for abuse no matter which communication medium is used, and policy to ensure its being used correctly.

In developer circles though, IM is integral; I have a network of IT colleagues that I connect with constantly to get insight into issue that I encounter. If I didn't have IM, I'd be cutting off a great resource that my company ultimately leverages. In our company, IM is a staple...you need to have it to keep in the loop with ownership, management, and team-members. I should have clarified in my initial post that I'm talking more about development departments that encounter this sort of thing.

D 2/26/2007 11:29 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

Ah, but that goes back to policy as well. The company I mentioned in my initial post was concerned about their IP getting out of the company as well, and went so far as to ban MP3 players because files could be put on them.

But what message does that send? It's not about the media accidentally getting files put on...its about un-trust with their employees, and when you know that the management/ownership doesn't trust you, what sort of environment does that end up creating? A paranoid one.

Proper policy, including access priviledges, are what really fix the issue instead of blanket "let's ban THIS" which still leaves gaping holes. You'd need to ensure there were no cell phones, no cameras, no optical writers in any of hte staff computers, no flash drives, no MP3 Players...but that doesn't solve anything, that just makes honest employees jobs harder.

I still think that you can control security, both inward and outward, without having to limit the tools available to developers.

But in the examples I gave in my initial post, the issue isn't really the IM...its the reasoning behind why its being banned, and in both cases I think it does lie with issues at the ownership levels.

This is a great discussion though, thanks for the responses!

D 2/26/2007 11:36 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

I'm late jumping into the discussion on this one, so this might never get read, but I'd like to throw in my two cents...

I agree with you on some points D'Arcy, but not on others. In my company... over 3000 employees... MSN is banned, but so are all other chat programs and yes, webmail too. The reason? Nothing to do with productivity, but everything to do with security. They are very, very cautious about what they open up on the network and we have had virus issues in the past because of those programs. They want you to use Outlook and Exchange for all email because they can block known viruses and scan all incoming email, which you can't do with webmail. Also, as a public utility, we get hit hard by privacy laws, so we have to be cautious about what information has the capability to be publicly available. You think not having MSN is bad? Try writing web apps when your security guys tell you you can't even set up a web service going to the external site... (issues we're still working out).

Maybe there are ways to make it so that you can use MSN and be secure... I don't know what they are, and maybe it's something worth looking into... I just don't see how you could make a strong enough business case to justify the cost of figuring it out and setting it up when the blocking is already in place, the network guys are overstretched already, and nobody's job is really made impossible by not having it.

You say it's integral for IT people... I agree it's useful... I miss having it, but at the same time, I don't have trouble doing my job because I don't have it. And you could say, "Well, let the IT people have it then if it's a work tool." That would *never* go over in a union shop. Somebody somewhere would file a grievance, and the corporation would have to spend the time and money dealing with the issue, and in the end it would be an all or nothing result... and then you'd start having the viruses and the p0rn problems again. I believe they're still trying to clean up the p0rn on some people's computers.

3/1/2007 7:50 AM | Tara

# re: Don't be fooled: Owners Banning MSN = Control Issues

See, the above comment is exactly why I wish blogs worked more like forums. This is an awesome discussion, but did I know there was a new comment? Nope, just randomly went back just to re-read.

Interesting perspective Tara, but I would say that my job would be seriously impacted without IM. It's made me extremely efficient and is an invaluable tool.

I have industry experts at my fingertips for those times when I'm extremely stuck and we don't have the in house expertise at the company. I also can communicate more effectively internally with my co-workers. If I was to wonder over to their cube to ask them a question when they didn't have the time. They would not have the option of not looking up to at least tell me "I don't have the time right now come back later" with IM, they can control when they look at a message. And you could say I could ask a question in email, but the thing is when they do have the time in IM, the exchange is much more instantaneous and flows like a conversation. So the information transfer is way more efficient.

3/4/2007 8:38 PM | George

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