Big Brother Boss

The management game has changed drastically as a result of enterprise software systems, and with that change has come many separate privacy concerns. Software companies’ products strive to streamline sales processes, succession and management change-up planning, integrating new policies or guidelines, and just about any other corporate strategy theory put to use in a company, big or small. Unfortunately, all of those products rely on one main thing: data. That data comes from a lot of places, but for management software in particular, the most valuable data are typically reflective of employee behavior. And employees aren’t particularly happy about that. Some data is aggregated from keystrokes, or phone call times, or even web-browsing (a more touchy topic with respect to privacy). Typically, companies restrict the data they collect to “business-only” behavior, that is, actions performed for business purposes. But for some jobs, the line between business and personal is often blurred. Steve Poppe, CEO of Roto-Rooter, employs 1,500 technicians, who all make their living on the road, repairing pipe after clogged pipe. Among their schedules visits, those employees are eating lunch, taking breaks, and performing other personal tasks throughout their day. Which is why most of them took opposition to Poppe installing GSP locators on their new, company-issued cell phones. Poppe’s rationalization for this apparent “breach of privacy” was to be able to send the nearest technician to a call in real-time, which is a valid claim when that is the majority of your business. For employees of the company, prior to the GPS system, they would have to manually report a job completion, and then wait patiently by their phone for the next assignment. Now, Roto-Rooter uses etrace software from GearWorks, integrated with their Nextel i58sr phones to view an interactive map of all their employees. It also allows technicians to carry portable printers connected to the mainframe system, capable of printing out invoices immediately, which immediately tells the company that the call is now complete. As a result of this software implementation, the company’s employees are now able to serve 20 percent more customers then before. That’s a pretty substantial increase in productivity at the cost of what was ultimately a low opposition to breach of privacy (Roto-Rooter’s employees’ opposition was short-lived compared to some other companies experience with GPS integration). Additionally, the employees directly benefited from the increase because they work largely on commission; the more sales, the more commission. Direct benefit may not be a valid justification for loss of privacy, but it will certainly help the cause at the corporate level.

There is also a new wave of corporate culture emerging at some technology companies that promotes a more organic approach to acquiring employee behavioral data. Cisco Systems, the largest producer of network and communications technology and services, has encouraged its employees to share their data willingly in the form of internal wikis, blogs, and various social networking accounts, both proprietary and open (such as Twitter and Facebook). This culture allows company employees to share information across divisions (such as engineering to sales), disseminate leadership and decision-making faster and wider, and manage what each employee is doing in a manner that is less invasive and more collaborative. If privacy is the concern, that solution is one that should be considered by companies having difficulty integrating management and tracking software. If a company the size of Cisco (which currently has $39 billion in revenue and $22 billion in cash while most companies are underwater), it certainly could work for others.