Every Move You Make
A software program that enables companies to monitor employees' computer activities can reduce support costs and raise productivity. But it also raises the hackles of computer privacy advocates.
Unlike other network monitoring software that only tracks which Web sites employees visit, WinVista Pro (from WinVista Corp., in Boca Raton, Fla.; www.winvista.com) goes much further. The program not only tracks Internet activity, but also every hard-disk file a user accesses on his or her PC; every application the user runs, and for how long; and even every menu option the user selects. A central database stores use and selection data.
This kind of audit trail is useful when a PC has a problem, enabling support staff to determine exactly what the user was doing when the problem occurred. Also, WinVista features a "veto" function that network administrators can use to prevent employees from engaging in undesirable activities, such as playing games, surfing the Internet, or changing network settings.
One New York City based investment bank has installed WinVista on 1,500 desktop computers in 14 offices around the world. The software has reduced PC support costs, according to a senior technology officer at the investment bank. And it also gathers detailed information about which applications and features are being used.
"The average person has 130 software applications on his desktop but uses only 20 or 30," observes the technology officer. "WinVista tells us what software we need to support and what software isn't being used."
But this collection of information has a hidden cost, charges Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.epic. org), a public interest research center in Washington, D.C.
"There's a privacy concern" with using this kind of software, declares Rotenberg. "But more than that, it shows a lack of trust in employees, and there's a lot of good management evidence that shows employees are most productive in a work environment when they are trusted."
In three months of use at the investment bank, WinVista has collected 3.5 million entries in its database, but the senior technology officer maintains there's nothing wrong with amassing such detailed information on employee activities.
"It's no different from having security cameras throughout the building," he contends. "Quite frankly, when you work for a company, everything that's on the system is essentially the company's, and we have the right to look at it at any time."
WinVista can be deployed on various Windows, Windows 95, and Windows NT clients and servers, and runs on a TCP/IP (Internet protocol) network. The price is $9,000 for a server and command center, and $150 per client.
----------------------------------------------- --------------------------------- TAX DATABASES
Online Records Relief
The annual corporate tax return filed by Cigna Corp. occupies 10 feet of shelf space. That's why Cigna joined a consortium of large companies to help Coopers & Lybrand LLP develop a database system to store tax compliance documents online.
The database system was sold to Computer Language Research Inc., a vendor of tax preparation software in Carrollton, Tex., which now offers it under the name Virtual Tax Office. Virtual Tax Office maintains a Lotus Notes database of internal tax documents and information, accessible to tax staffers throughout a corporation.
Cigna has been implementing the system for six months. "We have 65 tax professionals," says Lee Hoffman, tax director for the Philadelphia- based financial and health care services company. "As they start using the system, we're able to free then up from just preparing taxes, so that they can work more on tax research and planning."
Another consortium member, Atlantic Richfield Co., is also implementing the software, but is starting with a different set of functions-- the Audit Organizer module. "ARCO is the largest Internal Revenue Service audit in Southern California," says Michael McCoy, senior tax analyst for the oil company. "We have 15 full-time IRS tax auditors working on- site here." Virtual Tax Office keeps track of IRS document requests, proposed adjustments, responses, and rebuttals. The software also tracks schedules and ensures that the company makes responses in time.
A rival software package, AACTS, from Arthur Andersen LLP, provides many of the functions of Virtual Tax Office. But the latter, unlike Andersen's software, can be used with any vendor's tax software.
Virtual Tax Office costs $15,000 to $50,000, depending on which modules are purchased. Customization services can push the final price up to $50,000 higher, depending on what's needed. Lotus Notes is required.