It's NCAA basketball tournament time once again. Businesses around the country are now slowing down as people secretly check in to see how their favorites in the office pool are doing, either via quick checks on websites or more overtly watching games live in the office. And let's not even talk about telecommuter productivity. But both the office pool and unsanctioned real- time communications (RTC) can have a significant impact upon businesses, despite their innocent appearances.
Of the two, March madness only lasts for a month. Real time communications programs outside of those officially sanctioned by the IT department will last forever unless aggressively squashed. But what sort of harm could off-the-book real-time messaging, voice, and video services cause? If employees can't get a IT supported solution to meet their needs, what harm is there in using an outside third-party to get the functionality they need?
A majority of organizations use two or more real-time messaging applications, according to a recent survey by BetterCloud. Some use 5 or more -- what's wrong with this picture?
At the very least, employees have to deal with two different IM apps, the "official" one and the "unofficial" one in a best case scenario. That means two contact lists, two different types of data flowing through firewalls and other security filters. IT will get dragged into questions on unsupported apps, time that could be better spent on other problems if they respond and interoffice friction if they just say no. It's a no-win situation for tech support.
BetterCloud's survey about real time messaging, using everything from Google Hangouts to Slack, said that anywhere from 23 percent (IT staff weighing in) to 27 percent (end users who know themselves and their work habits) are actually less productive. Ironically, IT people believe real time messaging is making people more productive while end users are saying it isn't. With off-the-books real time communications, end users don't get training in the best way to use an app and managers aren't able provide guidance and policy on the appropriate use of real time messaging or when it should not be used.
But what about the law? So far, both contribute to inefficiencies. However, depending on state regulations, the office betting pool is technically illegal. Keep the stakes low and don't roll up a big prize and you shouldn't get arrested for either participating or organizing a pool. There's a lot of "Don't ask, don't tell" within most organizations, with HR willing to turn a blind eye to the activity so long as it doesn't put a significant dent into productivity.
Sounds a lot like unsanctioned real time communications, except you can replace HR with IT, right?
But for businesses with regulatory reporting requirements, unofficial real time communications channels are a serious matter. Financial, legal, and health care organizations, as well as other entities and departments that handle such information, need to have secure, logged, and documented means for communicating. Using a real time communications app that goes around a sanctioned app that provides an audit trail of use and/or recording could result in serious consequences for both individuals and the business as a whole. The appearance of giving insider advice on stock trades or talking to a client about a health matter in an unsecured fashion is the stuff of nightmares for CEOs -- even more so if it actually happens and some sort of harm or legal action occurs as a result.
The best approach to unsanctioned real time communications usage is a combination of education and strong enforcement. Tell employees why they shouldn't be going "off book" with unsupported applications, especially if there are security and/or liability concerns involved. IT staff may/should have to tighten up firewalls in order to prevent unsupported apps from being used by unauthorized users.