What Happens When You Leave (Either Your Company or Earth)?

Years ago, a New Yorker (?) cartoon depicted a widow and her deceased husband’s boss standing at the graveside of the newly departed. The boss turned to the now-deceased employee’s wife and asked, “I know this is an awkward time, but did he ever mention source code?”

Somewhat in that vein, I had an interesting discussion at MacWorld/iWorld with Allison Sheridan who runs the NosillaCast Mac podcast, and then followed this up by attending her talk (the only talk I have attended at a conference with “death” in the title). Allison recounted the experience of Tim and Alice Verpoorten. Tim, the geek in the family, died and left his wife Alice (a non-geek) with a large amount of stuff – old Macs, routers, cables, diskettes and a variety of other material for which she had no use. Worse, Alice had no access to Tim’s email accounts, cloud-service passwords and the variety of other stuff that would have proven to be extremely useful after Tim’s demise. Long story short, Allison condensed the Verpoorten’s experience (as well as that of her and her husband who helped dispose of this stuff) to four questions to which we should all take heed:

  • Who could access your passwords if something happened to you?
  • What services should you continue if you were incapacitated or worse?
  • How organized are your electronics?
  • What could you document to protect your interests and give your family/friends a helping hand?

This raises an important issue – and a number of questions – for business and IT decision makers for those situations in which their employees leave (regardless of how they do so):

  • Do these employees have corporate content stored away somewhere that is inaccessible to the company? Places like USB sticks, personal cloud storage accounts, home computers, personally smartphones and tablets, .PST files, etc.?
  • What are the consequences of the company not being able to access this content – or not even knowing it exists?
  • What steps are you, as a business or IT decision maker, taking today to ensure you know where your data is and that you have complete and unfettered access to it?
  • Do you have a succession plan in place that defines who owns Twitter followers, Facebook posts and content that has been posted to social media?
  • Have you consulted your legal counsel about your rights and obligations as an employer to ensure you have all of the data to which you’re legally entitled?
  • Employees, are you operating in compliance with the law and corporate policy in the context of how and where you store company-owned data?
  • Employers who hire people from other companies, do you know what these individuals are legally entitled – and not entitled – to bring with them? Are you sure you’re protected if these new employees use confidential or proprietary data from their previous employer?

These are the kinds of questions that organizations should address in order to protect against their key employees’ untimely demise or some other departure from the company. This is simply part of good information governance. Moreover, Allison’s experience is part of good life governance. We should all take steps to start pursuing both.

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