CurrentWare making name for itself in growing field of employee Internet monitoring

When Kevin Porsche kept getting requests from his company’s human resources department to find out what websites employees were visiting, he knew there had to be a better way than checking every computer.

“You can go through the typical history view on an individual PC, but it wasn’t really co-ordinated to one central location,” says Mr. Porsche, the IT administrator at Shady Maple, a farm market in eastern Pennsylvania.

“It was … going onto the (employee)’s machine and hoping they didn’t clear out their history, things of that nature. The more requests I got from our HR department requesting what the user was doing at a particular point in time, it became apparent that we needed to get a central management (system) in place for our web (monitoring) activity.”

After doing some research on web monitoring software, he recommended Shady Maple go with an Ottawa brand called CurrentWare. The small south-end firm, which makes a series of Internet filtering, monitoring and security products that help clients keep track of their workers’ Internet use, is the only local company in the lucrative space.

Shady Maple started using CurrentWare’s BrowseReporter monitoring software five years ago and now has it installed on more than 100 devices.

“It’s been very effective,” says Mr. Porsche, adding a number of employees have been dismissed or disciplined at least partly due to their web surfing habits since the software was installed. “There is no disputing when an issue does arise. The reports are 100 per cent accurate. It’s become extremely useful for our HR department.”

Initially introduced by CurrentWare’s parent company Codework in 2003, the software has evolved over the years to include more features and services. Today, it works on a range of devices from laptops to smartphones and is especially popular with financial and health-care institutions south of the border, says Codework founder Jay Lakhani.

Its biggest clients include Honeywell, the United States House of Representatives and Microsoft, which monitors its Xbox customer support workers using CurrentWare products. Companies pay a one-time price for the software licences and an annual fee to access CurrentWare’s service and maintenance services.

Mr. Lakhani, whose firm employs about half a dozen people in Ottawa and 20 worldwide, says more and more companies are looking for a way to efficiently ensure their employees have their eyes on work-related websites during office hours and aren’t gambling, shopping or looking at porn.

“What we’ve learned is that companies generally have standard corporate policies,” he says. “That really helps to make the playing field a bit level in the sense that policies say we understand you do have a need to use the Internet, but we’re also trying to make sure that productivity is not affected.”

The firm has averaged “steady” eight to 10 per cent annual revenue growth since the software was introduced, he says, adding 2014 was its best year yet with sales approaching $1 million.

“It’s been a very positive business cycle for us,” Mr. Lakhani says, noting revenues were up 12 per cent last year over 2013. “It’s definitely a growing space.”

Recent survey findings appear to bear that out.

A 2014 survey by Salary.com found that about 42 per cent of 750 employers who responded said online activities were the biggest time-wasting activity at the office. In another survey that year, the Human Capital Institute found that 65 per cent of companies polled have a policy for blocking websites and 60 per cent said it was effective at keeping workers more focused on their jobs.

Still, not everyone is thrilled about the trend toward constant Internet surveillance in the workplace.

While acknowledging that employers have the right to know how workers are using company equipment during office hours, privacy advocates argue that managers also have a duty to inform their employees they are being monitored.

“It becomes covert surveillance and that’s a trickier kind of thing,” says Brenda McPhail, the director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Privacy, Surveillance and Technology Project. “If they’re doing this and it’s above board, they have the right to do it, but they also need to tell employees exactly what’s happening.”

Such constant monitoring also erodes the worker-manager relationship, she says.

“There is, I would suggest, probably a real tradeoff between keeping employees feeling like they’re valued and contributing members of the organization versus being watched and not trusted,” Ms. McPhail says. “It can be very poisonous to a workplace environment even if it’s not technically illegal.”

Still, CurrentWare product manager Sue Pabari says the demand for her company’s products isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

“When we first started off in this business, it seemed one-dimensional, you know, just Windows PCs,” she says. “But now, we are thrown into the influx of not just PCs, but a whole range of (operating systems) and devices out there. Keeping up with (new technology) keeps us ticking.”