Social networking in Indian organizations: Do CIOs bell this cat?

With increasing popularity of social networking in Indian organizations, more Indians access social networking sites from offices. How do CIOs respond?

Social networking sites are not just marketing tools, but also come with the possible baggage of productivity loss. Indian businesses leverage these networking sites as tools to tap customer interest, and encourage their users to understand the dynamics of social networking from an Indian context.
Though most Indian organizations strictly discourage personal consumption of social networking, they believe it's too early to put in stringent controls. To check the ground realities of social networking in Indian businesses, we got the technology heads of two companies to share with us how they have been handling social networking among employees.

Ajay Dhir, CIO, JSL, belongs to the manufacturing industry where customer interaction is the domain of just a few departments. Dhir has restricted the use of social networking sites on the organization's network. It's his experience that resulted in the current restrictions. "We do not allow access to social networking sites on the office networks. Earlier, we had open access to it, but in the JFM2009 quarter we imposed a total restriction. However, the ban did not work conducively for departments such as branding, marketing and corporate communications."

Dhir explains that the other reason for the restriction on social networking sites—besides the loss of productivity—was the economic downturn which had made employees vulnerable. He wanted to avoid the possible negative effects of the exchange of communication over these social networking sites.

At the same time, he admits that cracking the whip on social networking in Indian organizations doesn't work. Hence, it's crucial to sensitize and educate the employee. Mere diktats do not prove effective in the increasingly open work-culture environment of our times.

JSL relies on its comprehensive security software to bar logging into these social networking sites. A control mechanism is in place that enables them monitor the restriction. "We do not use separate tools to manage these sites for the employees. One cannot be rigid with these sites, but a judicious mix of permissibility and control is always good," states Dhir. Still, Dhir believes in exercising control over social networking in offices, and, in the current situation, sticks to his policy of restricted access to these sites.

One cannot be rigid with these sites, but a judicious mix of permissibility and control is always good
Ajay Dhir

On the other hand, Sunil Mehta, the senior VP and central Asia systems director of JWT, a customer-centric organization, has an open access policy when it comes to use of social networking. He explains: "We obviously do not encourage chit-chat, but at the same time promote business usage on LinkedIn and Twitter. The power of these media on the social networking in Indian organizations cannot be overlooked, especially in today's scenario for our industry where understanding customer behavior is a critical aspect of any project."

Besides, he also believes that one cannot really exercise a total ban, because people access these accounts on their handhelds. Hence, by and large, attempting to exercise complete control doesn't serve the purpose. The real art lies in education about social networking in Indian offices, and deriving more productivity out of these sites.
Educating the user not only restricts the productivity loss but also avoids data leakage. Says Mehta, "We have zero tolerance for sharing any company confidential information on public platforms, because both the company's and the client's image is at risk. The company does have a policy where the employees officially commit on confidentiality."

Mehta also refers to earlier instances of music and movie downloads, when he experienced more bandwidth consumption during lunch hours, the problem was resolved through education and communicating with the employees. There is the likelihood of the dying of the addiction to these social networking sites for personal use over a period of time, and instead, proactive use of social media as professional tools.
In spite of the possibility of the misuse of the freedom granted, Mehta's company has benefited from the non-restricted access to social networking sites by merely keeping the end-user educated.

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