Unblocking web access

Published on 11 Feb 2009

Even the best designed websites and web-based services can be rendered inaccessible by corporate IT policies. Polices which restrict access to social media sites seem to be particularly prevalent in the public sector.

Now, all organisations need to safeguard their networks from attacks by viruses and spammers. Firewalls are essential but they can be rather blunt instruments which prevent organisations benefiting from the use of web-based services. Imagine when the life-transforming discovery that glass could be made into windows was made, allowing light in and views outward without letting in rain and wind. The only problem was security: unauthorised entry was easy by simply smashing the glass. What would our modern day IT security response be? Board up the windows of course! Or make the opening small enough to keep out unwanted intruders, in the process negating the original benefit of the technology.

Which brings us to our featured website, a blog called Helpful Technology written by Steph Gray, Social Media Manager at the UK Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills. While acknowledging the need for network security policies, Gray argues that "often, they're just bloody-minded and a symptom of a lack of understanding that social networks, wikis and on-line video are increasingly important tools that people need to access from work in order to their jobs properly".

Policies which require individuals to seek special dispensation to use certain sites are dis-empowering and perpetuate the notion that just because social networking sites have recreational uses they don't also have legitimate business applications.Rather than fret about whether people wasting time on such sites, managers, he says, should use the disciplinary measures open to them if they believe an employee is breeching acceptable use policy.

Gray has helpfully constructed social media test suite survey which rather cleverly takes you to various social sites such LinkedIn, Flickr, Youtube and asks you what you can see in order to determine whether you are being blocked. This is a welcome initiative, the aim of which is not to ridicule organisations that may have unenlightened policies. Rather Gray hopes to identify the good reasons for limiting access, and separate those from the bad ones.