Are Your Systems Running an Employee's Side Business?

Don Tennant

There's a lot of talk about the importance of innovation and creativity here at the Midmarket CIO Forum in Orlando, and it begs a question that's not being asked frequently enough: How do you make sure that innovative and creative spark ignites something that helps the company rather than hurts it?


During a panel discussion here that focused on the IT budget crunch and the relentless demand to do more with less, Rick Rhodes, chief deputy for information technologies in the Tax Collector's Office of Polk County, Fla., spoke about an entrepreneurial effort to bring in an additional revenue stream. His organization has hired itself out to the city of Lakeland, Fla., for example, to handle the city's utility bill payment processing. Rhodes is generating revenue for the county by tapping his excess computing resources and managing this public-sector IT operation like a business on the side.


It's a brilliant move, yet it raises the question of how many side businesses are operated out of IT departments to generate revenue that doesn't go to the company's bottom line. How many IT workers are making ends meet by doing side jobs using the company's computing resources?


An article in the March 2010 issue of HR Magazine cited a 2009 survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp., which found that 13 percent of U.S. employees had taken on second jobs as a result of the recession. What's unclear is how many of those second jobs are cases of moonlighting, and how many are promoted or even performed during the workday, concurrently with the first job, in a practice known as "daylighting."


The issue comes to the fore when, say, a systems administrator is nabbed for hosting an adult Web site from his company's data center, but any number of less egregious cases no doubt go undiscovered and unreported. The potential for such abuse, moreover, clearly isn't limited to the data center or server room. So much computing power lies in the hands of users throughout the company that an underground cottage industry could be operating just about anywhere on the company's premises.


Given the extreme economic difficulties a lot of people are facing right now, I have a hunch that the practice of daylighting is far more widespread than the relative silence on the topic would suggest. I would be eager to hear from anyone who might be able to share any observations or experiences. Have you seen this in your workplace?

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Mar 17, 2010 10:05 AM Gabriel Gabriel  says:

I'd certainly shy from disagreeing with your premise that employees making use of company resources for their own (unrelated) financial gain is worrisome (at best); nevertheless, your fourth paragraph is fearmongerish. You're jumping from an Opinion poll on who's going the extra mile to help keep food on the table, to a scary sentence about daylighting. "What's unclear?" It's also unclear whether IT unemployment is affecting the lifespans of New Zealand fauna. Absence of data does not make an article a reference-worthy source.

Well, in my opinion, anyway. I may be the only one who thinks this even qualifies as a small nitpick, but sensationalism irks the hell out of me, and I wanted to speak up. At the very least, the graf could have been worded differently.

Mar 30, 2010 2:44 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

As the leader of the Lakeland .NET User Group - I can say this is no surprise.  Lakeland is filled with entrepreneurs.  Glad to see that the local government fosters this internally. 

As for as people using company systems for their own use, I think most IT pros are professional enough not to.  The risk is too great, considering that for pocket change you can host your own server.  I've had side projects to earn extra money, and the thought of using company systems never crossed my mind.

In fact, even though I have all the software needed on my company machine, not a single line of code for a side project ever touches my company laptop.  It's best to buy or lease your own systems and software.

I mean really - why take on a side project that is only profitable if you must steal company resources?  The notion is silly.

The only thing I have seen close to this is when I was at Intel.  We had a Quake (game) server running for team members and we would get on it after work.  The manager knew, and it was considered team building.  And there was no money to be gained from it. 


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