How Personal Is the Personal Computer?

By Lee Pender, CIO |  Software

For some corporations, even flirting with the copyright issues surrounding file-sharing applications is too risky. Chavez found banning the technology outright easier and safer than working with lawyers and human resources professionals to develop a safe policy for employee usage of that particular technology.

For others, however, allowing IS employees to toy with the latest innovation is worth any potential legal risk. Ron Pollard, CIO of Specialized Bicycle in Morgan Hill, Calif., said he likes the technology behind file sharing and encourages his employees to explore it.

"Napster is really great technology," he says. "[IT workers] should be out there looking at how technology works."

Technology Travails

Lawsuits are only one example of the problems that can be caused by personal abuse of office technology. Another more technical demon can raise its head: overworked bandwidth. File-sharing apps in particular are notorious bandwidth hogs -- one MP3 can mea-sure 5MBs alone. When users download multiple songs at once and simultaneously have multiple songs uploaded from their libraries, bandwidth can become scarce. And it's not just file-sharing applications that can cause problems. IT executives have also battled applications such as interactive games and downloadable tax-preparation programs.

Bandwwidth shortages can give a CIO a false sense of how much bandwidth his organization needs, which ultimately can affect the bottom line. Justin Kirsch, senior vice president and CIO at Security National Servicing Corp., a loan-servicing company in Sacramento, Calif., says his company upgraded from T1 lines to a T3 connection with the thought that it needed more bandwidth to handle B2B transactions. "We've made decisions to buy more Internet bandwidth thinking that our business was using that bandwidth," he says. "In reality, [we had] employees downloading music all day long." Security National now uses software that blocks sites and applications that are bandwidth hogs and carefully enforces personal-use policies that restrict bandwidth-intensive applications.

Another red flag signaling heavy use of high-bandwidth applications that could be more immediately damaging is a slow website. An overload of internal traffic can, depending on the configuration of a company's network, cause an external website to crawl. Eventually, bandwidth problems become tech-support issues. The more users are bothered by slow connections, the more they will call on already overtaxed IT staffers to help solve problems. An outbreak of slow PCs, a result of hard drives crammed with downloaded files, and slow network access should alert CIOs that it might be time to investigate the use of file-sharing applications.

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