Websense -- a company that sells solutions that help managers crackdown on unauthorized usage of the Internet -- issued the following statement today: "Websense, Inc., the world’s leading provider of employee internet management solutions, today announced that internet misuse in the workplace costs American corporations more than $178 billion annually in lost productivity."
If nothing else, you have to give Websense some credit for complete and utter transparency. More often than not, to hide such conflicts of interest, vendors put themselves at arms distance from studies that could stimulate demand for their products by commissioning research outfits to do the studies for them, and then neglect to disclose that connection in the resulting press releases and announcements. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Microsoft was connected to an incident of this nature this year when, one month after a research oufit announced at RSA's security conference that Windows was more secure than Linux, the researchers disclosed that Microsoft funded the study. While a controversy ensued about whether Microsoft had any control over the research methodology, the point that was lost in that discussion was that when a vendor commissions a study, it almost always has the power to decide whether the study is released to the public or not. Anyway, read the press release and draw your own conclusions about the assumptions it makes.
Regardless of the integrity of the study, announcements such as these always make me wonder should be blamed for the financial damages that result from Internet misuse. Anybody who has taken Management 101 knows that if you hold employees accountable for achieving documented and measurable goals, that goofing off whether it's through "cyberslacking" (Websense's term) or any other means will simply surface in employee underperformance versus stated goals. If I'm running a company, I want it to be a great place to work -- a place where employees can use the Internet as long as they're meeting or exceeding expectations. In that context, I wonder whether cyberslacking crackdown products aren't really crutches for poorly managed companies. Of course, there are other, more legitimate reasons to monitor Internet usage. For example, any misuse that could lead to a lawsuit. An example of that might usage that violates your company's policies regarding sexual harrassment or violence in the workplace. Another transgression to watch out for is leakage -- inadvertent or intentional - of intellectual property.
[Update 7/20/05: In response to one reader's question about how it was that WebSense arrived at these numbers, I contacted WebSense for a breakdown and then analyzed it. See Why WebSense's FUD doesn't add up.]