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Monitoring Workplace Internet Usage with AI

We often joke about corporate slavery here at Nanalyze, but the truth is that if you’re fortunate enough to be employed at a job that involves sitting in front of a computer all day, you have a pretty easy life compared to the majority of people on this planet. In fact, a fair number of you would probably admit that you spend a bit too much time at work doing things at that don’t directly contribute to shareholder value. If you’re able to post things on Facebook during work, then that’s time not spent working but instead creating free content for Mr. Zuckerberg while he travels around the United States driving tractors. The reality is, a certain amount of time we spend during the day is not productive, and from an employer’s perspective this is some low hanging fruit that can be plucked to create some quick efficiencies. How much efficiency are we talking about? How about this from a white paper by Livigent:

According to an IDC study, 30 to 40% of Internet usage in the workplace is not work-related. 37% of employees say they constantly surf the Web when they are at work, while 75% of all Internet porn traffic is done during the nine-to-five workday.

That’s a big problem. Think about how much productivity a company could realize if they reduced non work related internet usage by just half. Historically, a problem with controlling what people surf on the web at work has been understanding the context of what they are looking at. One emerging technology that’s been getting really good with context lately is artificial intelligence. There are few CIOs who would object to a technology solution that could quantify productivity in terms of what people actually do on their workplace machines. In fact, it’s almost certain that this is happening already at the firm you work. It almost has to happen. Your employer won’t have a leg to stand on in court when one of their employees goes postal, then a workplace internet surfing audit shows how the individual spent 30% of their time over the last few weeks researching “best way to shoot up my workplace”.

The truth is, companies need to know how much time employees spend on the Internet (and by that we also mean all the flavors of social media there are) and what they are looking at. The fact that your employees can access the Internet at work is a liability and it needs to be managed. At the same time, employees should take responsibility on their own for increasing productivity. One company addressing this problem is Sapience.

Founded in 2009, Indian startup Sapience Analytics has taken in $8.1 million in funding from investors that include Credit Suisse to develop an “innovative people analytics solution” that contains two components. The first one called Buddy is along the lines of what people might find more palatable. The idea here is that the employee engages with “Buddy” to see what they actually spend their time doing. Some people actually want to try and reduce the time they spend aimlessly reading content on the Internet instead of getting stuff done and the tool helps you sort yourself out:

When looking at the above dashboard, it’s easy to see how this could be tracked behind the scenes and then aggregated across an organization. That’s where Sapience Enterprise comes into play, allowing firms to track what all of their employees are getting up to. With 75 clients, Sapience has logged more than 304 million hours so far which is a lot of big data than can now be analyzed with machine learning algorithms to find useful insights.

Astute readers will note that the real problem may not be tracked by monitoring someone’s work machine. The fact is that smartphones can be used to access the most common distraction platforms. According to an extremely depressing article by HuffPo:

Specifically, the survey revealed 64 percent of all employees visit non-work related websites every day at work. Not surprisingly, Facebook socializing occupied 41 percent, with LinkedIn at 37 percent, and Amazon shopping at 25 percent. Other destinations: Yahoo, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest.

That’s easy enough to control by monitoring inactivity, but why should we have to monitor people like some sort of high school for adults? Not to mention, some of the monitoring solutions out there, like the Humanyze cattle tags we talked about before, are just degrading and shouldn’t be used in any situation. It all comes down to whether or not people want to work hard or slack off. Those people who actively choose to spend their time at work doing actual work should be rewarded for it.

It’s not just curbing non work related Internet usage that workplace monitoring needs to address. Employers need to monitor the content that employees access, and one firm is using AI to track this in real-time. One Romanian firm called RnD Software has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop a tool called Livigent that uses artificial intelligence (AI) in real-time to monitor what employees are accessing. You can configure the tool in any which way to restrict content and build detailed reports around Internet usage. We weren’t going to include this firm in this article as they don’t appear to be doing much lately, but this next feature was worth mentioning given how “touchy” everyone has been about workplace behavior lately.

In addition to tracking what types of content you access, Livigent can also help prevent some really awkward situations that will land you in the HR office no time. One product called Livigent is addressing problems with risque content that you may inadvertently stumble upon. If you’re one of the lads, and you have a friend from Denmark, you’ll know what we’re getting at here. It’s entirely possible to open up a link to a Danish newspaper and suddenly have two giant bosoms staring you right in the face while your colleague sitting behind you looks on with shock and horror as you desperately try to click your way out of it (NSFW example). Livigent can sort that right out with their real-time AI solution that paints in all that skin. Check it out:

That’s going to make Internet surfing a whole lot less fun at work which is the whole idea behind these tools.

Gauging employee performance on the job is important, because it allows us to run a business as a meritocracy. Anyone who is a strong performer (and those who manage strong performers) knows that having 30% of your day free to surf Facebook means that you are incompetent. Why? Because you have all that free time and you have not asked for more responsibilities. Taking on more responsibilities is how you advance and get promoted in meritocratic organizations. High performers don’t have time to spend surfing the Internet for a third of their day because they are too busy getting isht done.

However not all businesses think that meritocracies are the way forward, ironically enough, one of those being Facebook itself. Last year at the SXSW conference, a senior Facebook employee, Maxine Williams, was quoted as sayingno one believes that any industry is a meritocracy right, I mean we’ve stopped talking about that, haven’t we? Yeah?“. No Maxine, we haven’t stopped talking about that. We will never stop talking about that, because meritocracy is what made Silicon Valley the world’s leader in innovation. It will always be how we judge performance. And people who spend 30% of their day fcuking off on your platform should not be rewarded for it.

As investors, we want the people working for the companies we are invested in to be productive as possible. The goal here should not be to police employees like children but rather to identify those job functions where someone has the luxury of spending 30% of their time at work not working. Then fill those roles with people who proactively reach out to their managers and ask for more responsibility instead of engaging with distraction platforms. That or retool the role entirely with a greater degree of responsibility. Employees get more work done and feel like they are making a meaningful contribution to the broader organization because they actually are. Those who don’t want to work hard can go apply for a job at Facebook. Everybody wins.

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