Who Does What, and Why?

New technology treads a delicate line, between helping employees -- and nailing them.

Aungate, a company with headquarters in San Francisco and Cambridge, England, offers a suite of software that can monitor and analyze E-mail, instant messaging, and voice-mail content for a variety of purposes. Used by government agencies (including the Securities and Exchange Commission), as well as many private companies, the software can sound an alert if something looks suspicious — critical information being E-mailed to unlikely recipients, for example — or simply provide a routing function to aid information-sharing. That is, the software can be sold on its merits as a fraud detector or as an aid to collaborative computing. One customer uses it to gauge the work of thousands of engineers, developing profiles of each employee’s area of expertise.

Ian Black, managing director of Aungate, says, “Our technology allows a customer to monitor an individual [employee] either covertly or overtly, and form a profile around [that employee]. That profile can be used to attract information to an employee that the employee might not have known about” — for example, if an employee is found to be working on a North American marketing campaign and someone else in the organization has developed useful intelligence on that topic, the report can be forwarded automatically — “or it can be used for issues such as compliance.” As an example of the latter, Black cites the “Chinese Wall” that exists within investment banks, and says Aungate’s technology would sound an alert if information appeared to be crossing that wall in any way deemed inappropriate.

Some of these products are still being researched — one, for example, is based on Air Force systems that detect a change in flight plans but could be adapted for the corporate world to look for deviations in work behavior that might signal ill intent. Another monitors atypical behavior — a bank employee who seems to be searching for accounts that hold large sums, but who quickly shifts back to regular work, simply taking a peek now and again. What they all have in common is the ability to assess vast amounts of information or behavior and put context around it.

Some analysts are skeptical. “In terms of automated profiling systems that do weird technology things based on how somebody types or based on their activity on Websites, I don’t see them as hugely effective,” says Rich Mogull of Gartner’s Information Security and Risk group. But he does see increased monitoring of E-mail and other forms of communications gaining in popularity. Others say that the use of software based on “predictive behavioral indicators” that develop profiles or patterns of behavior for employees will flow naturally from work now being done to prevent cyberattacks. Given that some of this software parallels the capabilities found in some CRM products, the notion of an employer that takes a keen interest in each and every employee — continuously — may not be so fanciful.

DeeDee Doke is a freelance writer based in Cambridgeshire, England.

Community Profiles

Many of us have been profiled by software, whether we like it or not. E-tailers that make customer recommendations (such as Amazon) do so by tracking what you’ve bought or looked at. A British company called APR SmartLogik is extending that concept into the workplace with a product called SmartLogik Recommend, which develops a profile of employees based on what they search for, what documents or news sources they find most useful, and other criteria. The goal, the company says, is not to fight fraud or other crime but to connect employees with data that’s relevant, and to other employees who might share similar interests. By alerting employees to both content and communities of interest, the product builds on SmartLogik’s expertise in search and information categorization. To date it has not landed any customers for this particular module, but it says government agencies and financial-services firms are likely users.

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