By Len Monheit
The adoption of the Internet as a communications and business tool, while it hasn't dramatically changed our lives, has certainly impacted our behaviors. It's probably safe to say that it has changed access to information and how we communicate, day be day and week by week.
I remember not too many years ago, when company executives determined that the 'Net' was too much of a distraction, restricted access on an absolute 'need to' basis, and opened general, rather than individual e-mail accounts, believing that this would restrict abuse. Although there is no denying that abuse is an ongoing issue, many job functions that might not have originally anticipated benefits from Internet access, now enjoy these benefits on a daily basis. Whether the deliverable is electronic news and media, search capabilities, competitive analysis and intelligence, collaboration or even supply chain management, we now frequently enjoy access to information that in previous eras might not have been available to facilitate decision making.
Just this past week, an unusual example came to our attention. For some time now, on-line recruiting and the use of job boards has been a useful tool for HR managers. The ability to post positions, navigate through resume databases, correspond with applicants and references have all impacted this job function. We're now discovering that at senior levels, another tool is also being implemented, and that is the ability to search on an individual's name (especially if it is a rather unique name) and get insights into that individual's 'on-line dossier'. As the pace and volume of communications accelerates, there are more search results including articles, press releases, personnel appointment notices, quotations and other references which, on the one hand make it easier to track a person's background, and on the other hand, make it increasingly difficult for an individual to cover up a checkered or erratic past.
In the specific instance that crossed our desks this week, an individual, presumably under consideration for a position in the industry, had a search done on their name, triggering a list of the personnel announcements for the same individual, at multiple industry ingredient suppliers - a few months apart.
Perhaps, in the 'old days', a person would gloss over a three month gap, or pad a period with a specific company to make it flush with another 'good reference' company, but these opportunities appear to be closing down as the on-line 'history' increases. Similarly, changing one's tune or position becomes a bit more challenging as more quotes and references are 'caught' on-line. All of this information becomes part of our electronic legacy.
In a similar vein, with good databases being set up, and with solid electronic file management systems in place, companies can not only retrieve and use information more readily, they can also archive it and establish traceability. (In the case I describe above, our internal filing systems contained two personnel releases, three months apart, from two ingredient suppliers, on corporate letterhead, announcing the hiring of the same individual.)
Access to information means we're accountable - accountable for our current activities, but also for our on-line legacy. A piece or article we post now might still be on-line two or more years from now, certainly a benefit if you're developing an on-line bibliography, or building a portfolio of your contributions. Is it the same benefit if the piece is a wayward prediction or documentation of a job-hopping history?
One of our fundamental laws involves action and reaction. Put in other words, for most things we do there are consequences - good, bad or indifferent. The impact of the Internet is really no different, it merely adds a few new consequences to what we might do or communicate. To use the Internet effectively, understanding potential consequences is pretty important.