By Ian Moyse, Workbooks.com, Eurocloud UK Board Member & Cloud Industry Forum Governance Board Member
Recent studies demonstrate that upwards of 25% of Internet bandwidth in an office are consumed by employees misusing the internet. According to Gartner, the average growth of business email volume is 30% annually, with the average size of the email content growing in parallel. Add to this the growth of Web misuse from streaming media, downloads, file sharing, social networking, and spam, and it becomes pretty clear that the mismanaged cost to business of non-work-related Internet use is already bad and getting worse.
With the Olympic tirade about to start there will be a mix of impacts on internet use and the security around it. Users in the city are being told to work from home with some companies we hear being instructed by officialdom to reduce their staff in the city during the game on period! These staff working remotely at home on work provided machines will spend how much time really working? Will they be distracted by the usual lures of the web, facebook, Hotmail, youtube etc – surely not!?
Worse still will be those employees across the UK still at their office location who will be viewing the Olympic activities and news online, streaming video and live TV will become commonplace. What impact will this have on not only the productivity of those guilty parties, but also those around them whose bandwidth is being sucked away from them!
There are plenty of examples already, including employees wasting more than two hours a day on recreational computer activities (according to a survey fielded by AOL & Salary.com) and that, according to an IDC report, “30% – 40% of Internet use in the workplace is unrelated to business.”
Studies and surveys such as these typically focus only on lost productivity — and there’s no doubt that’s bad enough. But they rarely discuss the significant hidden financial impact of bandwidth wastage from these activities.
We have started to take bandwidth for granted as it’s become cheaper and more readily available. However, as the adoption of cloud-based solutions (like customer relations management tools) increases, it will be critical to ensure the user has a good experience with Web-based applications, with the speed of their ability to work unimpeded by bandwidth grabbers and slowdowns.
Social networkers are as much to blame as habitual gamers, sports fans, or file sharers: After ‘posting messages,’ the next two most common social network activities are uploading and downloading music and video content. Overall top bandwidth hogs reported include employees sending emails with large attachments, recreational Web surfing, listening to the radio over the Internet, music downloads, and streaming video over the Internet.
One rogue user in an office streaming large files can impact everyone else trying to work. Clearly, there’s a need to manage individual users’ bandwidth usage.
Perhaps by taking simple steps, such as giving users bandwidth allowances, admins can control the abuse. By blocking streaming media, allowing users to go to sites but without the ability to see streamed videos, bandwidth usage can be reduced dramatically. It may also be possible to block the downloads of certain file types or MIME types, such as Flash Video .flv files, unless the user has a legitimate business reason to view them. And blocking some MIME types can even help prevent users being bamboozled into infecting their own computers by malicious advertisements.
The web has increasingly become a valuable business tool for research, information (how often do you check a route, traffic, customer information with no second thought to the reliance on this medium) and for cloud applications that are fundamental to the business.
Action needs to be taken by organisations now to get control back of this valuable tool and medium and to reduce the negatives it can bring in terms of time wasting, HR cases (facebook examples are rife) and security risks. With a younger generation entering our businesses, for whom spending their life on facebook, twitter and the web is the norm, better to get these policies and policing tools in place now before it becomes even more of a risk and hill to climb to introduce this change of culture and behaviour.
Employees need to understand where the line is drawn, ‘drive that internet car, but don’t speed, don’t drive dangerously and certainly don’t pick up strange hitch hikers along the way.’ It’s essential our internet workers are not wasting valuable work time, acting recklessly or going off road using work assets on work systems!
An example solution to this is easy in using Software-as-a-Service Web filtering, offering unique advantages that can now be brought into play. For example, bandwidth compression of all traffic from the cloud to your users browsers, and even the ability to block Web adverts at the gateway, may conserve this bandwidth resource. Knowing and controlling where and what people can do on the web is no longer an option, its becoming a necessity.
Over time, simple measures such as these can conserve a large amount of bandwidth and regain productive employee work time. An employee spending 10 minutes an hour outside smoking is visible and you can choose to address it. An employee wasting such time on internet activities is invisible and even to them that time passes fast and unnoticeably and the internet is of more interest to more people than an activity such as smoking. Think of this as the hidden disease in your company and start to prevent it now.
While we all appreciate the privilege of using the Internet for personal purposes at work, a small number of rotten apples on your network can truly ruin the whole bunch. The Olympics will drain your resources, productivity and bandwidth for sure! Draconian measures are sure to hurt morale, so it’s a bit of a balancing act to find the right mix of measures that work. As the growth of cloud applications and hosted services continues, it will be more important than ever to keep these bandwidth hogs in check, lest the rest of the company suffer.