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CIOs have “no choice” but to let staff use WhatsApp for work

WhatsApp is “a CIO’s worst nightmare” and yet IT leaders have no choice but to let staff use the messaging platform for work, BT’s customer insights chief warned today.

Speaking at UC Expo in London on Wednesday, Nicola Millard said she now regularly sees employees using the app for work purposes without the permission of their IT team.

“The number of WhatsApp groups is phenomenal in some of the organisations I work with. But the IT guys are saying ‘no we don’t use WhatsApp or allow it on the network’.”

The popularity of WhatsApp and Slack is borne out of the fact that email is a “terrible collaboration tool, a black hole that no one else can access”, said Millard. “In order to collaborate on email, they need to work out who to collaborate with. They then end up cc’ing the universe.”

MPs and doctors have come under the spotlight in recent months for using WhatsApp for work. Last July, Google revealed that the NHS’s dependence on fax machines had resulted in doctors resorting to the messaging app to send patient scans.

GP Alisdair MacNair told the BBC he had seen “stuff which is one step away from being patient identifying”. “I’m very wary of going near anything like that because of the risk of breaching data laws, but it would appear others don’t seem to be aware of the risks.”

In March, BuzzFeed obtained a massive leak of WhatsApp chats revealing “the full fury of the Tories’ Brexit split”. The story illustrated that an encrypted message is ultimately no more secure than an email if your recipient is harbouring a grudge.

“WhatsApp is a really useful tool, but it’s not corporately controlled,” said Millard. “It is the IT departments’ worst nightmare.” Consumer services such as WhatsApp may conflict with companies’ data retention policies. But “forcing users to use something crappy doesn’t work either”, says Mark Straussman, the chief product officer of the video conferencing provider BlueJeans

“IT is measured on end-user customer experience,” Strassman tells NS Tech. “Of the IT companies we talk to, most have a ‘VP of end-user experience’. They get paid based on how people are rating the quality of the experience.”

Millard concluded that saying no to staff who want to use consumer tools “can be dangerous”. Instead, she said CIOs should ask “how can we make this both secure and usable without saying no? Because if we say no, they’ll probably do it anyway; they just won’t tell the IT guys.”