The Bloor Perspective: RIP bites, Sema down and time management for the net age

In their latest assessment of three of the week's key issues, Robin Bloor and his colleagues consider one way in which the controversial RIP Act is beginning to affect companies, the situation of Anglo-French Sema, and modern-day time management...

In their latest assessment of three of the week's key issues, Robin Bloor and his colleagues consider one way in which the controversial RIP Act is beginning to affect companies, the situation of Anglo-French Sema, and modern-day time management...

Thanks to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill, introduced at the end of October, employers are now able to monitor email, phone calls and internet activity without the consent of their employees. Despite the arguments that highlight conflicts between RIP and data protection and human rights legislation, the sacking of employees for email related misdemeanours has already begun. It started in Huddersfield, Yorkshire where a mailing list for sharing 'smutty' messages was uncovered. The two ringleaders were dismissed and the decision was upheld by a tribunal soon after. Most recently six employees of Cable & Wireless were dismissed for sending messages deemed to contain obscenities. Here we have two very different cases. In the first, the Huddersfield business had sent its employees on training courses to highlight the problems of misusing email. It had laid down standards to define the kind of behaviour that would not be acceptable. With C&W, in common with the majority of organisations, its email system was largely unregulated and, it seems, C&W has decided to make an example of a group of employees who have little hope of getting a full hearing. We all know that there is a delicate balance to be struck between managing corporate resources and keeping employees happy. Providing access to the telephone, email and internet for private use is one way this balance can be maintained. There is also an onus on employees not to take advantage of these facilities or abuse them. This is why every business should provide its employees with clearly stated guidelines as to what resources they can use, when they can use them and what levels of behaviour are expected. Then everybody knows where they stand and it is more difficult for employers to exploit untested legal situations to justify modifications to the workforce. *Sema's American nightmare* Anglo-French services group Sema has just issued a profits warning for the second half of its current financial year. Most of the blame for this has been apportioned to the purchase and subsequent poor performance of LHS Group which was acquired for an amazing $4.7bn valuation in March 2000. This was a bold move by Sema to gain a dominant position in the mobile telecommunications market but it seems that it will be some time before it sees any return on its money. The strength of LHS is its billing system and operational support software both of which Sema wanted to use to enhance its own position within the mobile communications industry. The LHS products were expected to give Sema greater leverage in the areas of customer care, billing, prepaid telecoms and other technologies. Two LHS directors joined the board of Sema when the deal closed at the end of July. But it seems that one of these directors may have traded LHS shares during the closed period of the acquisition - which financial analysts seem to have taken as a sign of mismanagement. They have knocked another 9 per cent off Sema's stock value to add to the steady fall that has been going on during 2000. It appears that Sema has been severely stung by the LHS deal. The only positive thought is that it was a stock-based deal and the steady decline of Sema stock over the acquisition period will have reduced the final figure. However, once the acquisition was completed, Sema found that the LHS business isn't as strong as it thought. Then a director hits the stock price even harder by getting caught up in a share dealing story. Sema is predicting big improvements for 2001 - both for LHS and its overall activities. Let's face it, things can't really get much worse. Can they? *I see stressed people* A recent survey by Priority Management has shown will all be seeing more and more stressed people. The increasing number of high-tech gadgets makes people feel "Tech Rich" while the constant demands placed on their time by an increasing workload makes them feel "Time Poor". Much of today's new technology is aimed at increasing productivity and making better use of our time. This potential is not being fulfilled as people have yet to learn how to adapt to the new environment and use the technology to meet their own needs. The survey shows that email is growing in the business environment with 80 per cent more people using it this year than last year. Added to this is the fact that more than 25 per cent of the people surveyed deal with more than 20 emails each day. The negative aspect of the technology is that its development has accelerated the pace of work, leaving people with little time for their personal lives. To back this up the survey shows that 45 per cent of respondents worked more than 40 hours per week with a further 35 per cent having a working week of more than 50 hours. Not surprisingly only 7 per cent of respondents said that if they were given an extra hour per day they would spend it working. Basically the survey shows that today's business environment is faster moving than ever before and to deal with this, Priority Management offers a 12 point guide that attempts to redress the balance between work and play. The guide is certainly not radical when looked at in the cold light of day but may offer a chink of light at the end of the tunnel to those suffering darker moments. The basic advice is to plan, prioritise and manage your workload and the influences over that workload. This is not rocket science, just good old common sense, the stuff that's been taught on management courses for years - and that we've now somehow forgotten about in this new world. So start today as a new day - work to live don't live to work!