Monday, November 05, 2001

Monitoring Internet use at work

Milford firm's software produces reports for employers

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With computers and the Internet as common in the workplace as drinking fountains and coffee pots, monitoring the Web is a big worry for some firms. It's also the sole mission of a Milford company.

Aaron Larkins poses with an Oculus report that graphs individual productivity.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        Further Innovations Inc. sells its Oculus software to employers struggling to detect non-business surfing of the Web and wondering what to do about it when technology is wasted on personal use.

        Oculus, developed by company founder Adam Freimark, also tells firms what software is and isn't being used, analyzes productivity trends among workers and enables managers to make purchasing decisions based on real software use.

        Monitoring employees on the Web, however, is the focus for Oculus. Catching workers who surf on company time does not necessarily mean the worker will be sanctioned by a company, said Aaron Larkins, chief executive at Further Innovations, which employs five people.

        “It's like if you're going 65 miles per hour and the speed limit is 55 miles per hour,” he said.

        “That's probably not going to get you a ticket. But if you're going 85 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone, then something needs to be done.”

        Unlike many Web screening approaches that categorize content or prohibit workers from personal Internet use through fire walls, Oculus allows unlimited surfing.

        But it has a reporting capability that enables bosses to figure out what workers are looking at when they cyber-browse. Oculus categorizes how much time is spent on non-business surfing and can even determine which departments spend too much time on the Web.

        Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annual reports can be generated. Software applications can be ranked for usage — that is, the percentage of time spent using, say, Microsoft Word or Excel — and return on investment.

        American workers average more than one hour per day of computer and Internet misuse, according to the Saratoga Institute of Human Resources, a Santa Clara, Calif., company.

        Since July 2000, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, overall on-the-job Web use has increased by 23 percent.

        What's more, 56 percent or 21 million office workers authorized streaming media — essentially video — while at work in September, according to the Nielsen/NetRatings.

        That's an increase of 5 percent from September 2000 and represents an all-time high of streaming media usage while at work.

        Nielsen/NetRatings' findings were derived from Internet use of a sample of 225,000 people that had access to the Internet in 29 countries.

        Executives at Further Innovations estimate that one hour of non-business use of the Internet per workday represents at least a $4,400 annual loss from 220 hours of nonproductivity per employee per year.

        The projections are based on a $20 per hour wage and do not account for lost revenues had the time been spent in a more productive manner.

        “Oculus can determine when the company is most productive — when employees are more productive,” Mr. Larkins said.

        Software that monitors work station computers can raise some ethical workplace questions, said Paul Fiorelli, director of the ethics center in the Williams College of Business at Xavier University and professor of legal studies.

        “If I put my lawyer's hat on, I'd say a company has every legal right to monitor employees, their productivity and see where they're going on the Web,” he said. “It is company equipment and company time.”

        “But at the very least, companies need to tell employees that they are going to monitor them. Companies should say they are concerned about the use of company equipment and that people use their time productively.”

        He said companies frequently screen computer use to guard against legal exposure from sexual harassment claims or loss of proprietary information.

        The Oculus software was developed when Mr. Freimark was employed at another company where many of his co-workers frittered away time by surfing the Web or playing games.

        “I just got tired of working the overtime that we wouldn't have had to work if this sort of stuff wasn't going on,” Mr. Freimark said.

        Rather than tracking clicks to inappropriate Web sites, the Oculus software monitors time spent at the sites. It costs about $15 per month per terminal.

        Monitoring occurs at the personal computer with reports directed over the Web to a server farm maintained by Further Innovations.

        About 14 clients have signed up for the service in the past two months. Oculus has been available since April, although marketing did not begin until this summer.

        The firm has under $1 million in annual revenues but has plans to grow the business to $50 million a year within five years, Mr. Larkins said.

        Hyde Park Computer is reselling Oculus to local clients and expects great interest from large and small companies in the months and years to come.


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