THE MAGAZINE

Untangling Web of Wasted Time

By Marta Roberts

Westex Group, Inc., a trading and export management group in Washington, D.C., does not have a large staff. So Joju Sebastian, a technology consultant with the company, wondered why the company’s T-1 connection was being “bogged down big time” by persistent Internet use. He decided that it was time to track how the company’s 13 employees were using—and perhaps abusing—the Web. Sebastian brought the issue to the attention of the CEO, who agreed that the situation should be monitored.

The company reviewed three different monitoring software packages and decided to evaluate one of them, StellarIM, for 30 days.

Sebastian liked the software’s ability to monitor both Internet Web traffic and instant messaging. He was attracted by the keyword search feature, which allows him to customize alert and search options. At the end of the trial period, Sebastian was sold.

StellarIM can be installed on any hard drive within a network of computers. Once the software is running, any computer on the network can be monitored. Users access the information through the StellarIM Web site, which is password protected.

In addition, users can be given tiered access to the StellarIM Web site. For instance, in a large organization, the senior manager might be able to review all employees’ Internet activity, including lower-level managers, while middle managers would see only the Internet activity of their own staffs. Because Westex is a small firm, however, all the monitoring was done by the CEO and Sebastian.

Once the monitoring software is installed, each time an employee accesses a Web site or participates in an instant message chat, the Web site or the content of the chat are logged into an Oracle database. Stellar offers two versions of the product, one with the database on a secure Stellar Web site, the other with it on a client’s server.

Once the activity has been recorded, the content of the session is searched for keywords, such as “pornography,” which are selected by the client company. If the keyword is found in any employee’s Internet activity, an alert will be generated and e-mailed to the manager.

In addition, designated managers can receive summaries of all Internet activity via e-mail at intervals determined by the client company, typically between one hour and 24 hours. Managers can also log onto the StellarIM Web site to view up-to-the-minute Internet traffic for each employee. In addition, the manager can generate reports and graphs, detailing Internet activity over any time period.

For example, if Sebastian wants to know what Web sites an employee was visiting, he can click on the employee’s name and view how long the employee spent at each site, the site address, and how many times the site was accessed. It is also possible to generate the same type of reports at the department level. The reports can be displayed in either data or graphic form. Westex, however, does not use the graphing function.

After monitoring employees during the 30-day trial, the Westex manager discovered that several employees were using the Internet to manage their personal stock portfolios during work time and that some employees were shopping or browsing sports Web sites. Sebastian says he used the keyword feature to create alerts for terms such as “Ameritrade.”

Most alarming, however, was one employee who, according to Sebastian, “had a big problem with gambling.” The employee would work late and had earned the reputation as the hardest worker in the company. When his Internet traffic was monitored, however, it was discovered that he spent several hours a day on a gambling Web site, and as a result, he was forced to stay late to make up for lost time.

Sebastian says the company originally monitored employees without their knowledge in order to gain a true understanding of how the Internet was being used. After trends began to emerge, the CEO spoke to each employee and showed him or her a record of the Internet activity. No disciplinary actions were taken at this time because no policy was in place.

Employees were informed that their Internet activity would be monitored in the future and that under the new policy, they could surf the Web for personal reasons only during their lunch hour. Sites that were inappropriate for a workplace would be off-limits. Employees were told that they would be subject to disciplinary action if they violated this policy. (Management was somewhat lax during the holiday season and allowed employees to periodically shop online without penalty.)

Sebastian says most improper activity stopped once employees became aware of the monitoring and the new policy. He also says that the employee with the gambling problem no longer gambles while at work, and his productivity has increased as a result.

Installing the product was fairly simple, as was training, Sebastian says. And overall, he says that the product has performed well. He would, however, like StellarIM to update the port numbers it uses to trap instant message conversations. According to Sebastian, “instant messaging companies are pretty smart about using different available ports to communicate.” He says that he has “had to go and adjust the port numbers to trap them.”

Sebastian says Stellar trained him on the functions of the program and he trained the CEO. However, the CEO was able to perform many of the functions intuitively without training.

Employees at Westex now use the Internet for work only. As a result, the T-1 line isn’t tied up.

The Web monitoring software cost the company approximately $8,000, Sebastian says. But management is confident that it is earning that back in increased productivity. And the company is also protecting against other problems that can arise from the misuse of the Web. “Nobody is sending communication without our knowledge,” Sebastian says. 

(For more information: Stellar Technologies, Inc., phone: 866/700-7557; fax: 239/592-0941.)


—By Marta Roberts, staff editor

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