Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Traitors, beware!

Was it just  yesterday that I was at least quasi-decrying using data to figure out whether an employee was in danger of saying ‘sayonara?’ (Not that, as a manager, I couldn’t have used such data analysis tools in couple of situations…)

Well, in today’s episode of “What Software Can Do For You,” it’s not about worrying whether your employees are leaving. It’s about worrying whether those employees have got cheatin’ on their minds. As in making off with your company’s intellectual property.

Nothing new about walking out the door on that last day with a few  little goodies to bring to your next gig. And we’re not talking about a stapler and a couple of pens here. We’re talking about customer lists, product specs, business plans. Stuff like that. Which will sure come in handy, given that the next company you’re going to may well be a competitor.

Sure, you may have signed a non-compete, but your non-pen-holding fingers were crossed. Besides, that non-compete is probably not enforceable, and, let’s face it, you’re much more apt to get a better offer from a company in the same industry.

In the most notorious instance of making off with the goods I was ever witness to, a couple of techies – including the lead engineer – who thought we weren’t getting to market fast enough and/or were going about it the wrong way walked out the door with a server. Which they returned after they’d stripped off the code they wanted.

They then went off to found a competitive company that, because it was able to get investment money behind it that we were not, managed to more or less eat our lunch. (We, unfortunately, had already exhausted our sources of capital, that’s for sure.)

Anyway, the upstart start-up also hired away a number of our employees, including a few folks I was very friendly with.

Not that I’m a saint, but when I was approached to join them, I didn’t feel right about it. I knew too much, and didn’t want to be disloyal to the leave-behinds. (The closest of my friends who went over to the other side – who was the one who attempted to recruit me – knew nothing about our technology or our plans for it.)

While they (now “the enemy”) may have eaten our lunch, we got a few just desserts.

Our president decided to sue them, and the settlement money, while not a huge amount, helped us survive for a while.

I was heartsick over the lawsuit when I learned about it, as it specifically named my friend, who had a quite senior position in the enemy camp. I was okay with the suit in general: these guys were definitely double-dealers and the founder and president, in fact, had been “working from home” and largely inaccessible for months before their coup. He was collecting a big, fat paycheck from us while pulling together his new company. He deserved to be sued! But my friend?

Unfortunately, my friend stopped speaking to me. More unfortunately, she died before we could mend the rift.

Anyway, I do know that people steal stuff from their companies that goes well beyond what they can grab and go after a quick riffle through the supply cabinet.

Another incident I lived through was during the height of the tech run up of the late 1990’s, when companies were hiring like lunatics (and paying like lunatics while they were at it).

Someone in my group decided to help a recruiter friend out by sending him the list of everyone in our business unit so that the recruiter friend could contact them, presumably to place them elsewhere and earn a big fee.

This charmer was caught because she was using a company fax to send the list out to her friend. She compounded her stupidity by leaving the fax in the machine, where it was found by someone in HR.

(Yes, she was fired.)


The problem predates the Internet: the salesman who takes the entire customer list with him when he quits, or the engineer who makes off with key product designs. But technology has only made it easier; now the salesman e-mails the data to his Gmail account, and the engineer can put product designs on a USB drive. In an embarrassing episode for Morgan Stanley, the bank dismissed an employee earlier this year for taking information about an estimated 350,000 clients of its wealth-management division…

Guarding against such risks is an expanding niche in the security industry, with at least 20 companies marketing software tools for tracking and analyzing employee behavior.  (Source: Bloomberg)

Software can analyze emails (privacy, what privacy?) or look for something that’s out of whack – like downloading information you’d never accessed before.

But, as with all good things, it can go a bit too far:

Some of the methods at companies that hire Securonix make even [Chief Scientist Igor] Baikalov wonder how much is too much. He cites the practice of matching information on user behavior online with feeds from video cameras and other systems that monitor physical locations. Some companies, he says, have created ticket systems so employees can report suspicious behavior by colleagues. “Is it too much, or is it actually the right amount of diligence?” he says. “I’m really curious how much we will get out of it. It’s really the extreme in kind of Orwell-like monitoring.”

Love the idea of have a ticketing system for reporting suspicious behavior. (Is the product name “Stasi” taken?)

But, ah, if we’d had tracking software in place, and if our faxing young friend had been sending out a list she’d downloaded, rather than one she’d photocopy, we might have caught her before the recruiter got his greedy mitts on it.

So traitors, beware!

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