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Tech-Centric View

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 09-10-2008 Print

The wider focus makes sense to Jim Magnus, IT manager for Anheuser-Busch's Packaging Group. "Maintaining high ethical standards is part of the way we operate," he says. That includes concern over issues such as data privacy and intellectual property. "There's a huge social responsibility that goes beyond any sort of legal or pragmatic concerns," he adds.

In some ways, Magnus says, the tech-centric view is more in keeping with the mission of his department than volunteerism. "It's not my job to go out and teach the world about technology, but this is part of a much larger picture," he explains.

That's not to say the more traditional focus on social responsibility is unimportant, just that it's not as essential to the core purposes of the IT job. "There's a line between volunteerism and going out into the community, and responsibility to the public on intellectual property and protecting and maintaining people's information," Magnus says.

Still, our research shows that IT people are engaged in the community-based approach to social responsibility. "IT almost universally sees itself as a community that must support itself across organizational boundaries," the report states. "It believes in sharing the benefits of IT in education among the needy and in the developing world. This is part of the community zeitgeist, not self-interestedly to provide a more attractive working environment." Much of this feeling is generated by individuals at the grass roots, according to the research. "It's not particularly promoted by heads of IT."

Not all this is altruism. Most IT managers see the benefits of social responsibility accruing to the company's image, and more than nine out of 10 say it's a smart policy.

More than half the survey respondents say they donate used equipment to groups or individuals in their communities, with financial services companies most likely to do so (and to get the resulting tax benefits). Volunteerism is encouraged, especially at large companies, although formal volunteer programs within these companies are relatively rare. Volunteering through local and national IT associations is more frequent. Most of this work is done with students, along with charitable organizations and community, religious and political groups.

While most companies in the survey have anti-discriminatory policies that they view as effective, few consider such policies (or other social responsibility issues, including labor practices or contributions to charitable causes) when selecting IT vendors. Diversity programs receive only lukewarm support from CIOs; as our recent article on IT workplace diversity noted, these programs have a certain eat-your-spinach feel to them, and cannot create a real culture of diversity on their own.

One place where the impact of technology registers strongly is on the people who actually work in IT. In fact, 82 percent of respondents say that IT departments should work to reduce the negative effects of technology, such as stress or constant unwanted availability.

Kennesaw State's Amoroso sees a great deal of growth ahead in the conception and practice of social responsibility for IT. Sophisticated research into the field is just getting cranked up, and new positions on the corporate IT organizational chart, like vice presidents of relationship management, may become more common. 


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