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Friday, May 28, 2010

Luddite, Inc.

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It’s not difficult to assess if a company or corporation is tech-savvy or how it views technology. All one really needs to do is to see how the management regards IT spending, and the IT-related measures it has put in place. Oh, and another tell-tale sign is the company’s website – it says loads about how a particular organization views IT, changing IT trends, and technology in general.

Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketBeing professional about his work, Walski rarely, if ever, comments about the company he works for. But what he discovered yesterday was the proverbial last straw. He will not reveal which company, but those who know Walski personally would probably be able to easily guess.

Well, earlier this week, the company Walski works for put a permanent block on certain websites deemed as “Social Networking” sites.

Walski has to admit that this move is not something totally unexpected, and is, in fact, something that many large companies in Malaysia have done – the more sensible among them, though, make only office hours off-limits. One of the initiating factors is that there has been incidences of abuse amongst the staff – such as extensive Facebook activity during office hours (yes, your bosses DO read your insipid status messages), and even some staff carrying out blog-based businesses, working on their blogs instead of doing the actual work they’re paid to do.

Personally, Walski sees this as a symptom of low job satisfaction – but that’s a can of worms he doesn’t wish to open in this post. Suffice it to say, the various HR-related “measures” put in place over the last 18 months has greatly contributed to this.

What is kind of intriguing about this exercise, though, is the extent to what has been classified as “Social Networking”. Apparently, the company’s definition is quite far-reaching…
(Information Technology, luddite style, and more,  in the full post)

For a company that has grown almost 6-fold in terms of employee size, in the last 4+ years that Walski’s been on board, he seriously thinks that the IT infrastructure has not kept up with demand. Instead, mitigation measures have been put in place, including restricting employee access to the Internet. It’s no surprise, therefore, that our web presence is as insignificant to what it was in 2005, a clear indication of where IT sits on the priority ladder.

So, instead of looking at web-based marketing, improved web presence and cutting edge customer interaction strategies, we have gone in the other direction instead, internally blocking Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube, plus any other site that resembles social media (like the entire Seesmic site), including image-sharing sites like Flickr, Imageshack, Photobucket and Webshots. Picasa seems to have been spared, but Walski suspects only because to block Picassa, it would require the entire domain to be blocked.

Not so surprising, however, is the fact that quite a number of Twitter-related remain unblocked. This is likely due to the fact that those responsible for the blocking orders don’t make use of these tools, or have ever used Twitter. Therefore, up to now, sites like TweetPhoto, Twitlonger, and Bettween remain blissfully unblocked.

But guess what? On top of what’s generally considered to be the “Social Networking” usual suspects, the entire Blogspot and Wordpress domains have also been blocked – meaning that as far as the management is concerned, blogs too have been classified as “social media”!

Blogs - Access Denied, image hosting by Photobucket

So, by default, any industry blogs that happen to reside on either one of these domains are blocked as well. Not a very intelligent thing to do. As of the time of this posting, access to most other non-“Social Networking” industry websites

Thus far, this blocking maneuver has only been done on a URL and/or domain basis, and not port blocking. Which means that Twitter is still accessible via applications such as the Adobe Air based Twhirl or Seesmic Desktop applications.

How long until the next drastic limiting move by the company is anyone’s guess, but if Walski’s hunch is correct, the normal day-to-day communication demands of e-mail and Windows Live Messenger (used company wide for instant messaging) of a very much expanded employee population, will soon overtake the bandwidth available.

If anyone were to ask Walski, the root-cause problem is that we do not have proper focus on IT needs and planning corporation wide. There’s no IT department, per se – instead, all IT “needs” are outsourced to a third-party service provider, who are an adequate supplier, but not really in a position to plan for us – they only do what they’re told. They’re fine at supplying hardware and software, and to a certain degree, server deployment.

There are, in fact, many benefits of using Social Networking platforms for marketing and business purposes. But a quick look at our corporate website will immediately tell you how abysmal and so not-up-to-date we are.

What this company really needs is a CIO or CTO type person, who can then properly advise and plan for anticipated requirements and demand. Then again, these are luddites we’re talking about anyway, who only choose to see the co$t associated with IT, and less often the benefits – which is why our accounting “system” still resides in Excel spreadsheets.

It would seem that, to those who run Luddite, Inc., the governing equation is:

Less IT = Less Cost = Bigger Bottom Line

Nevermind that a company remains a luddite corporation incapable of harnessing the power of IT and the many possibilities that today’s Internet has to offer. Which is also why our administration staff size is on the large-ish side, preferring to hire people to do grunt work, rather than invest in productivity tools, and adequate training to fully utilize those tools.

Now, on the surface it might seem as though that this post is nothing more than a rant about the corporation Walski works for. Not quite true – rather, it’s a commentary of how backward some companies are when it comes to IT, and how IT is regarded.

It just so happens that he works in such a luddite environment – call it a luddite epiphany, on Walski’s part, if you would. He is also very well aware that the company he works for is not unique in this respect. Mention things like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, the first thing that comes to the minds of the management is likely to be negativity.

But can luddites change? Or, are they so comfortable with what’s familiar, that the very thought of leaving their luddite comfort zone prevents any consideration for even looking at the benefits that new ways of doing things online, and new tools, can bring?

Being a geek, it’s sometimes quite frustrating for Walski to work for a company that sells technology to others, and yet is rather backwards when it comes to deployment of technology internally within the organization.

Walski reckons, however, that he’s not alone in the world when it comes to feeling this way. It’s probably part and parcel of working for Luddite, Inc.

Walski's historical terminology footnote: The term "luddite", in modern usage, refers to people who are fearful of technology, and the changes that technology brings. In a more derogatory manner, it also refers to people who are terminally thick when it comes to technology. The term originates from the name of a social movement of textile artisans in Britain during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, who protested against mechanized looms, which they felt left them without work and changed their entire way of life (source: Wikipedia). It is in no way a complimentary term, and it’s usage in this post is deliberate. Walski does not like luddites very much, as you can probably tell…

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