Sometimes it feels like we're going back in time. I remember when the Internet first broke out of its academic shackles and started penetrating the mainstream.
I can still recall that large numbers of businesses were exceedingly wary of the idea of using the web: they shied away from setting up their own websites (and if they did offer a site, it was little more than a brochure. I can even recall wanting to send a message to an executive at a telecoms company no less and was told that it wasn't possible, only senior management had email addresses (and this was 1996/1997).
I thought those days had gone for good but the need to restrict communication and the interchange of ideas is still very strong. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how my local council - Brighton and Hove - had been slow in keeping residents updated during the recent crop of extreme weather.
It seems that was not an accident; according to the public sector IT manager organisation, SocITM, 90 percent of local authorities have some sort of restriction on social media use, with 67 blocking it completely. According to the SocITM report, the main reason for restricting use is security, although, as the report goes on to say, staff are accessing social media sites through smart phones- the use of which within the work environment is an additional security risk.
And it's not just councils who are at it. Today, we received news that Manchester United was banning its players from using Twitter. While I can understand the need to keep some things private, the idea of a blanket ban is excessively heavy.
Both councils and football clubs (and all businesses) need to learn that engagement with residents, supporters and customers is going to be key to future development: council leaders perceived as distant and voted out, customers from uncommunicative businesses will go elsewhere and Manchester United may need as many friends as possible if there's going to be a bitter financial struggle.
Here's where the IT people come in: they shouldn't be meekly acquiescing in this strategy, the CIO/IT director should be investigating ways in which social media can be integrated within the organisation. He or she should be looking at improving security and, most important of all, should be drawing up guidelines of what can and can't be discussed. Again, there are parallels with the early days of emails, where many organisations didn't set down rules as to how the technology should be used - causing legal problems for some and embarrassment for others.
A blanket ban on media or technology that's too new or too complicated to be incorporated into an organisation's technical infrastructure or way of working is not the way forward: how many companies from 1996 and 1997 that saw no future in the web or email think that today? The ones who survive that is.
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