CIOs Must learn to Deal With Social Networking

By Art Johnson  |  Posted 2008-11-26

Today’s techno-culture has spawned a generation of “info-brats” who demand immediate gratification when it comes to getting the information they want from the Net. Whether for personal use (MySpace and Facebook) or for business (blogs and instant messaging), this new way of communicating is a major concern for IT—especially for the CIO.

Today, CIOs must navigate the fine line between accessibility and security—a line that gets grayer every day. The larger the company, the more complex the issues become, leading to the creation of policies that must be explained and justified to both employees and management.

But CIOs can’t turn their backs on these technologies, which can provide many benefits. For example, the use of instant messaging has been a valuable tool for our employees. Since we’ve put the proper safeguards in place, it has not caused any security breach to date.

Since many of our employees are mobile, they’ve been equipped with all the hardware and software necessary to do business on the go. They have connection cards for their laptops and PDAs, as well as encrypted Wi-Fi to access our network.

The issue of personal use is another story. E-mail accounts from Yahoo!, Google and AOL are prohibited on our network. We do allow our customers, vendors and partners to use these accounts when transacting queries, but only under the scrutiny of our network security group.

Sites such as LinkedIn and Xing offer potential business opportunities, but they also are monitored for personal use. The advent of IBM’s Unified Communications and Collaboration strategy will play a critical role in determining what network architecture we should implement and what policies we should create to determine how UC2 will be used.

This issue can become heated, as CIOs make judgments on what constitutes personal use without infringing on business development. For instance, by using RSS to format and aggregate blogs and documents into content buckets, we can help control and route information according to business rules. Our spam and phishing software also helps control the flow of non-business e-mail and can block specific URLs. We are refining Microsoft’s SharePoint to allow collaboration based on each division’s policies and management directives.

To build value propositions for our Fortune 500 customers, we must use new technologies as a competitive differentiator. Using Web applications and portals to empower customers, vendors and partners to access information and build orders is efficient and economical. Third-party tools can also enhance collaborative relationships worldwide, while allowing our younger workers the freedom to expand their skills.

The use of Skype for audio, video and textual conferencing has also helped us adapt to the global collaboration taking place. However, once again, this tool must be used in accordance with security and human resources guidelines. The use of these various tools has enabled us to save quite a bit of money as we partner around the globe.

As CIOs, it is imperative for us to abate risk in order to preserve the integrity of our information systems. Yet, we also have to be cognizant of the informal IT organization that resides within just about every company.

Tech-savvy workers will usually find ways to circumvent policies to find a solution that they feel gets their job done most efficiently—regardless of the IT organization’s edicts. With the proliferation of social networking to empower these workers, our jobs as CIOs have become even more multidimensional, and these employees will continue to challenge our notions about how, when and under what conditions to provide access to information.

Art Johnston is vice president of information systems and CIO at Argo Turboserve, a provider of supply chain management services.

Art Johnston is vice president of information systems and CIO at Argo Turboserve, a provider of supply chain management services.