Do you outsource your snooping?

If you have decided you need to monitor your staff's online activity -- should you do it yourself, or use a third party?

More enterprises are using Internet monitoring and filtering software to track their employees' online destinations. The big question is whether to use in-house staff to do the monitoring. A US survey by the American Management Association found that 63% of companies monitored their employees' Internet use in 2001 -- an increase from 2000, when 54& of companies kept tabs on their employees' Internet use. IDC numbers showed similar results: 51% of the companies surveyed in 2000 said they had Internet monitoring in place. Once a company decides it needs monitoring and filtering, it faces a difficult decision: Whether to outsource the job to an application service provider (ASP) or buy the necessary software and hardware and do the job in-house. Pricing for the two options is often comparable, so other factors come into play when you need to choose which is right for your organization. According to industry analysts and filtering companies, the buy-or-outsource decision depends on a company's size, the kind of industry it is in, its IT staff's expertise, and the exact mix of features the company requires. An ASP may be your best choice if you are: A small or medium-sized company. Going with an ASP "can maximize the return on investment" on monitoring and filtering for a small or medium-sized company, says Brian Burke, senior analyst with IDC. For companies with a small or time-strapped IT staff, an ASP solution can be particularly cost-effective, he notes. Jack Palmer, CEO of Stellar Internet Monitoring, an ASP-based monitoring company, believes that it can even help larger companies, and claims that he recently switched a large business from doing filtering in-house to an ASP service, freeing up the equivalent of two full-time IT jobs. A company without a reliable data center, or one looking to cut maintenance costs. With an ASP, someone else is responsible for the hardware and its associated headaches, so any company without a rock-solid data center should consider an ASP. A company without core security competencies. Not all IT professionals are security experts, so even large companies with sizable staff should consider using an ASP if their IT departments don't have the appropriate security expertise, Burke says. A company looking to save internal bandwidth. In-house filtering means that filtering and monitoring applications need to be run across the company's network, taking up precious bandwidth. On the other hand, because not all ASPs can block all Internet use, an ASP solution may allow users to waste bandwidth. For example, some ASPs may not block the downloading of MP3 files and streaming media files. Performing filtering in-house might serve you better if your organization is: Looking for the most full-featured solution. Kevin Blakeman, president of filtering software vendor SurfControl, says that software that runs within a company's firewall frequently offers features not available from ASPs. For example, ASPs like Stellar Internet Monitoring offer only monitoring features, and don't actually block users from visiting sites or using specific Internet resources. Concerned with potential legal liability regarding Internet and e-mail use. IDC's Burke notes that some enterprises, such as health-care institutions and financial firms, are legally required to keep e-mails containing certain types of information for an extended time. He says most of these companies may not want to risk the legal liability if an ASP doesn't do so. SurfControl's Blakeman adds that any company may be held legally liable for sexual harassment if employees are seen visiting pornographic sites. An ASP that cannot block access to porn sites won't help address that legal liability either. Worried about privacy issues. Using an ASP means that a third party has a record of all your company's Internet use and e-mails. A control freak. Relying on an ASP means giving up absolute control over Internet use and monitoring. In-house software gives you total control of filtering, as well as scheduling reports of the filtering software's findings.

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