Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
CIO judgment, CIO leadership, CIO role
These festive months are times to enjoy and rejoice. We do have fun; but there is something else to these festivities that give us the jitters. It is the greetings messages that run unhindered through our communication pipes and create those famed bottlenecks.
As a CIO, I have faced these situations often and I may have interesting stories to tell. It was in 1998 when I had just connected all offices of my organization on e-mail. In the initial period, reluctant users would send occasional mails to others only when forced to. We had then connected all offices using VSAT network with a meager bandwidth as it was expensive. But as Diwali approached, the network went numb and it took us a while to discover that it was that sudden burst of traffic (with greetings messages) that choked our network. Then came the New Year and the network started to blink again. People had by then learnt to create new cards using paint brush and other utilities; and those attachments were really heavy. Over the next two years, we took several measures to address this problem. For instance, I sent a mail to all requesting them to be choosy when sending greetings and to be measured by sending to those whom they knew rather than marking it to all. When that didn’t work, we had to block access to central groups for all except a few seniors. In order to bring a smile to those sad faces, we introduced a greeting cards application, asking people to choose cards from them instead of creating their own. We invited all the creative artists to draw out new cards with their signatures and add to the library.
The matter changed over the years as bandwidth got cheaper. With larger pipes the problem has perhaps become manageable or perhaps not quite so, as this traffic still poses a problem often. We know of the choke created on our mobile networks when people’s SMS messages flow with gusto. The mobile companies had to resort to higher tariff for such periods as a measure for controlling traffic.
The greetings conundrum does cause its own sweet trouble. Being a social activity, it makes difficult being harsh with people, and managements generally sympathize with their brethren. This is tricky; CIOs have to find a new way to address this problem. There are few tips that I can offer, though there could be other good methods adopted by some of us.
1. Advisory to users: Users sometimes need to be educated, made aware or simply told to exercise judgment. It may help sending a message to all asking them to send greetings to only those whom they know rather than marking them to all in the organization. I also used to mention of users’ complaints of unsolicited greetings messages from people not known to them.
2. Set an example with our conduct: I decided that I will not send mass messages, and will also not reply to such messages even if they come from close friends. I then persuaded employees in my department and many senior functionaries to observe such celibacy; and it worked.
3. Create a greetings library for internal usage: This reduces traffic and helps standardizing this ritual besides reducing the data traffic. Those who do not follow this practice can be talked to.
4. Greetings coming in or going out of the organization: Such incoming and outgoing messages also create a bottleneck. Though not much can be done in respect to our dealings with official contacts, we can request users to make use of birthday greetings sites, or their personal mail (yahoo/gmail etc.) for greeting their friends and other contacts.
Festivals are social events and we have to let people enjoy and greet each other. While such freedom is desirable, it makes sense to keep a watch on the computing and network infrastructure and ensure that it is available to the organization and people at large. That is the responsibility that a CIO is bestowed with, and he has to find a way to ensure that the systems function at all times.