You’ve been in airports all day. You finally reach the hotel, throw your bags down, and fire up your laptop to check Facebook. Instead of seeing the familiar home page, you’re greeted with an “access denied” error message, blocking access not only to Facebook but to any Web 2.0 site.
This isn’t a bad dream -- it’s a reality for many hotel guests. If you’re on the move a lot, then you know all too well that, while paying for hotel WiFi can increase your Internet speed, it doesn’t increase your chances of gaining access to your favorite information-sharing and social-networking sites, like YouTube, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter, and wikis.
When will hotels learn that modern business travelers require a good Internet connection for getting on our laptops, checking out online videos, tweeting, booking flights for the trip home -- and maybe even getting some work done? Besides, how can I blog about a great hotel if I can’t get online?
Hotels aren’t the only places needing Web 2.0 connectivity. We’re also seeing social media being used in productive ways in the classroom, for conducting research and teaching students; or in healthcare, where hospitals are implementing more and more aspects of Web 2.0 for sharing information with their partners, patients, doctors and nurses, and other staff to improve effectiveness of services and communications.
What’s holding many organizations back are four core concerns:
- Productivity levels will decrease, due to employees spending time on social media Websites (given that it’s not part of their job).
- High-bandwidth Web 2.0 sites will overload the network, potentially blocking mission-critical applications and services.
- Employees will access pornographic material or other inappropriate Websites.
- Security and privacy issues will increase.
These are all legitimate concerns that will grow as the use of the Internet grows in various industries. But adopting a “shutoff” tactic across the board is neither fair nor helpful from a business standpoint.
So just how can hotels, schools, and hospitals strike a balance between “the crackdown” on Web 2.0 and the legitimate use of, and right to, access social sites? This is a challenge for many network administrators and one that many vendors are trying to solve. Until now, the most commonly used option was to block such content altogether.
I believe the solution lies in an organization's ability to gain insight into user activity, applications, and potential threats and then use this knowledge to group users into different categories of access. These days, routers, switches, and other on-premises equipment can be adjusted relatively easily to control these categories.
For example, one group in a company might consist of top-level executives who receive highest priority and access to everything. Yet another group may have no access at all. Among other actions, IT must meet with constituent departments to determine who needs bandwidth and in what priority.
Problem employees may indicate areas where adjustments must be made. Management might learn, for instance, that Bob the inside sales rep spends 2.5 hours per day watching reruns on Hulu.com. Now, this knowledge -- short of getting Bob fired -- can help the company put a corrective policy in place that would give him certain privileges, while restricting others.
Bob’s group, for instance, could be provided with access to Facebook and Twitter, but have bandwidth to Hulu throttled down to make the site slow and unattractive.
As Web 2.0 content becomes more and more prominent, and as more employees clamor for use of it in the workplace, IT departments will need to nail down their ability to shape and manage access.
Only by helping to find out what’s needed and helping management to create policies around these requirements can IT ensure that network resources are available for business-critical applications and traffic spikes -- without compromising the quality of the network or the productivity of employees.
— Brent Nixon has over 15 years of business strategy, product management, and operation experience within the technology industry. He is currently President of Cymphonix.