Gartner: Loosen up on social networks, security

The IT consulting firm tells its clients that a locked-down, controlled computing infrastructure is not only impossible, it's a bad idea.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

ORLANDO, Fla.--OK, IT managers, it's time to loosen up.

That's how analysts advised Gartner Symposium attendees here Monday, arguing that corporate computing departments shouldn't block social networking and that security shouldn't completely lock down communications with the outside world. And even if information technology authorities want to shut down such activity, they can't.

Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell
Carol Rozwell, a Gartner vice president Stephen Shankland/CNET

"Banning access to social media from the corporate network is futile," said Carol Rozwell, a Gartner vice president. "The world we live in is digitally enabled and socially connected."

The advice reflects the transformation of the information technology world as the Internet steadily pervades more and more corners of everybody's life. Although the Gartner event historically has concerned itself with matters such as justifying the expense of a new enterprise resource management computing system, the broadening show reflects the growing scope of work that IT managers face.

Overall, companies must acknowledge that not everything is under control of their own top-down administration, said Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of research at Gartner.

"We're moving from control to greater autonomy," Sondergaard said. Managers also must find an appropriate place on the spectrums of in here vs. out there and owned vs. shared.

To underscore her view, Rozwell argued that humans are social creatures and that there's more to employee relations than a paycheck for work performed.

"While a job may be regarded as an economic transaction, the human brain thinks of the workplace as a social system," she said. Social networking can make employees "feel valued, a part of a community, and earn the respect of peers."

Peter Sondergaard, Gartner senior vice president of research
Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of research Stephen Shankland/CNET

Employees should get used to a greater corporate presence in their social-networking lives, though. For companies, social networking can reveal previously unknown influence and performance in employees, and companies should tell employees that corporate conduct rules apply online, too.

"We can't stop social networking, but harnessing the passion of employees and educating them about the responsibilities is essential," Rozwell said.

Computing security, too, is changing, argued Paul Proctor, another Gartner vice president. IT security staff should think carefully before exercising a reflex to prevent employees from communicating with Facebook's e-mail or Skype's Internet telephony.

Gartner analyst Paul Proctor
Paul Proctor, a Gartner vice president Stephen Shankland/CNET

Companies should rationally evaluate services such as Google's Gmail and decide whether the potential cost savings might well be worth the risks. Even evaluating such services will be a big step for IT departments accustomed to being able to rule their own domain with an iron fist.

"You cannot protect yourself from everything. You must learn to balance risk and performance," Proctor said. "The cloud and software as a service have appeal, but they introduce a huge shift in how technology is managed and controlled."

He is no Pollyanna. Software for intrusion detection, antivirus, and firewall protection is still essential, Proctor said. But there are limits to what's practical.

China's incoming firewall revealed that while it's possible to block some incoming information, it's not practical to block the widespread outbound flow of information.

"Don't try to shut down the two-way flow of information, because you can't stop it," Proctor said. "Transparency is in."