May 14, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:11 pm

CT firm taking organization charts public | Wiki-style venture holds promise for some, dangers for others

PHOTO/LISA WILDER
PHOTO/LISA WILDER
Farhan Memon, CEO of WikiOrgCharts in Norwalk, is using crowdsourcing to build organizational charts for companies whether the companies want to cooperate or not. It could be a great tool for some and a headache for others, privavcy experts say.

Company organizational charts showing names, titles and reporting structures are often closely-held secrets, but a fledgling Norwalk-based business is trying to change that.

WikiOrgCharts (www.wikiorgcharts.com) is dedicated to the notion that a company's structural relationships should be easily available to anyone, and founder and CEO Farhan Memon is seeking help from the public to make that happen.

"A lot of companies consider their organizational charts to be semi-proprietary, but legally they're not," Memon said. "There are a lot of reasons why an org chart is useful external to the company. For sales people, business development people and someone looking for a job, it's very useful to understand how a company is structured and who reports to who."

Just as members of the public can contribute to Wikipedia and WikiLeaks, individuals can fill in the blanks in the charts WikiOrgCharts is developing. Visitors to the site are asked to register by using their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, thereby automatically loading their employment information onto the site. Registered users also have the opportunity to add information about other employees at their companies with the goal of eventually building a complete organizational chart for each business on the site, which Memon said now gets about 80,000 users per month.

Memon has put a number of safeguards in place to warn users of information that might not be accurate. After registering for the site, users are asked to verify their identity, which places them in "verified" status. Each profile is color coded to indicate the presumed accuracy of the information. A green code indicates that the person has either registered themselves or "claimed" their profile after it was added by another user. A yellow code means that the profile was added by someone else within that company, but has not yet been claimed by the individual, and a red code indicates that the information was recorded by someone who has not been verified by the system so it might not be accurate.

"There is an audit trail to show who contributed what information," Memon said. "Your reputation really matters."

Users build their reputations through a points system that encourages contributions to the site. Each new registrant starts with 10 points and a point is added each time that user contributes information. Users lose a point each time they simply look at another profile without contributing anything new, and when they contribute information that is later flagged as incorrect. Once an account reaches zero, the user is no longer able to view information on the site until he or she adds new, accurate information.

Memon said he has not received any backlash from companies whose organizational charts are being constructed on the site. The only complaints so far have come from "a handful of people" whose salaries are among the 1,000 highest in the federal government, a list that appears on the WikiOrgCharts site. Memon simply explains to them that as government employees, the amount they are paid is public information anyway, he said.

Steve Bonafonte, an attorney with Pullman & Comley LLC's Cybersecurity, Privacy and Infrastructure Protection Practice, said that while WikiOrgCharts appears to be operating completely within the law by having individuals contribute their own information through LinkedIn, "I can see where some organizations might be troubled by putting their organizational structure on a public site. There may be some mid-sized companies that have a unique organizational structure that enables them to operate differently than their competitors, but we're not talking about the formula for Pepsi here."

Efforts like WikiOrgCharts might provide a lesson for companies to be mindful of the information they allow their employees to disseminate, Bonafonte said. "They might want to take steps toward training their employees and putting agreements in place regarding what information should not be shared outside the company."

Memon is now developing a spin-off product called OrgChartMe, being designed in conjunction with the federal government, which Memon expects to be its first customer. Like WikiOrgCharts, the new venture will enable employees to build organizational charts for their employers, but there will also be a private Facebook-like social networking component.

"Being social on Facebook or Twitter is not what companies want to do," Memon said. "They're looking for ways to be social privately. This will include a profile for each person that lists their skill sets like advertising, public relations or social media, so Farhan Memon, CEO of you can search across skill sets to find the person you need."

The name came about when the federal authorizes with whom he is developing the concept didn't want the word "wiki" included because of negative associations with WikiLeaks, Memon said.

Memon runs WikiOrgCharts from his home in Norwalk, but he works with designers and developers in Romania and Australia as well as Connecticut. He is seeking funding for the company, but finds that venture capitalists in the area tend to be more conservative than those in his native California. "The climate for starting a company in Connecticut is a challenging one," he said. "Everyone wants you to be located in New York or the Silicon Valley."

Despite previous efforts to keep company organizational structures private, Memon believes that the time is right for WikiOrgCharts. "Thresholds are changing," he said. "Not that long ago, it was not uncommon to think that resumes were private, but now with LinkedIn and social networking, everything is becoming transparent. This fits in with how companies are changing."

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