Easy on the IT incentives for employees

In a recent survey, workers in their 20s were asked for their opinions on insurance companies.

Forty per cent said they want access to social networking sites at work, while more than three-quarters were more likely to accept an offer from an employer who offers the option to work from home. A similar number felt the same way about PCs supplied by the company.

You have to take survey results like these with a grain of salt. Most respondents to the survey felt that insurance companies are behind in their adoption of technology, but this was co-sponsored by and Microsoft Corp. and Insurity, a vendor that makes software for the insurance industries.

So if you’re in insurance or any other service industry, should you be scrambling to update your systems so you can attract young people? Our view is that information technology and telecommunications is a tool to help people do their jobs. If an employee who travels off site is more productive because he or she can access his or her systems through a virtual private network, that’s one reason to consider it. If your company finds Facebook is a great way to market your products and get sales leads — or gather information useful to senior planners — that may be a good reason to consider letting workers access Facebook.

Should you give employees BlackBerries, PCs, remote access and Facebook access just because young people think it’s cool? That’s not really a technology issue. It’s more an issue of using perks to attract employees. Spending hundreds of thousands to buy, install and support applications (such as Web commerce) because customers are expecting it is one thing. Spending the same amount because a recent university grad used the stuff at school and gets bored looking at a black and white screen is another thing entirely.

At ComputerWorld Canada, we give writers and editors Facebook access because we have a group, called ComputerWorld Canada Connects. We use this as a way of getting feedback on major issues and communicating not only with readers but with people in the industry, like yourself, who may also like communicating using Facebook. We did not give Facebook access as a perk for staff. That’s what our summer barbecue party is for.

So as an IT manager, your job may go beyond supporting employees. It may also involve managing expectations, and having a clear idea of what technologies are perks and what are mission-critical. It also doesn’t hurt to give users a precise cost-benefit analysis. For example, if someone wants remote access, they may think it’s a simple matter of buying a laptop and giving them high-speed access. Do they (and their manager) understand the total cost of ownership?

One way of driving revenue and cutting costs is by implementing useful technologies. But another important method is understanding the difference between cool — what’s nice to have — and what’s a must-have.

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