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I work in IT, and like typical IT folks, have a lot of friends in IT. Is it professional to use these connections to help my employer?

For example, a client in my company needs to contact another company for things like product support or network reconfiguration. They are unsure of things like, which department to contact, what information is needed, mode of communication (email/phone), contact information (email address/phone number).

I have a friend who works at this company, so I ask them (via IM) if they know anything about it. My friend happily volunteers helpful information (the precise data you should include, the public department email, etc.) without giving out personal phone numbers or emails.

Can I pass this information along in my company and say that I got it from a personal contact in the other company?

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    Is it your job to provide this information? Are you supposed to know it? If yes, why don't you? Your phrasing makes it sound like you want to subcontract to friends without company permission or reimbursement (which is bad), but your example is very far from that. – Dukeling Aug 24 '17 at 7:43
  • For my example, I was part of a three-way conversation, somebody is implementing a change, we provide some of the necessary services to get it done, the other organisation provides the rest. It's technically the responsibility of the area requesting the change to know how to raise their service providers, but they mentioned to us that they had no idea how to raise the other guys. – Bruno Aug 24 '17 at 7:51
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    For what it's worth, that exactly what you are doing when you post something on a forum like this or the more technical StackOverflow.com. The only difference is that here you are talking to strangers rather than someone you know personally. – DanK Aug 24 '17 at 12:46
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    Totally fine. I once solved an email problem in ~3 days by contacting the technical contact email address recorded in DNS whois record for the recipient domain. Six months later I got a reply to my original enquiry through proper channels. – Criggie Aug 24 '17 at 15:58
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    @Dukeling: "Are you supposed to know it? If yes, why don't you?" - well, how do you expect anyone to know anything they are supposed to know unless they learn it - such as from other people who know about it before them? And even so, work in IT is very often not about "knowing" something and then repeating it, it is about knowing something and finding ways to apply it to a given problem. And that "finding ways" is a fundamentally interactive process that almost invariably involves discussions, brainstorming sessions, etc., together with other people. – O. R. Mapper Aug 24 '17 at 20:02
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Assuming none of the information your friend is providing contravenes any NDA or similar then I don't see a problem with it. If you were pressuring a friend to reveal information their employer forbade them from revealing to those outside the company that would be a different story but as described? Totally normal.

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    For the reasons you've stated in your question, this is correct - you're simply short-cutting the Googling and tail-chasing. – Snow Aug 24 '17 at 8:10
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    What if the person you supposed to contact is yourself? I am working with another business, and when I inquired who to contact concerning an issue, they relayed my inquiry to a relative of mine who works there. My relative then provided my semi-private contact details. Which was then relayed back to me. Everyone had a good laugh. – Nathan Goings Aug 24 '17 at 20:25
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    Agreed - it really depends on the level of information you're looking for. "A friend of mine works for a company who deals with Bob's Widgets a lot - he might know a good person to speak to there" is probably fine. "My friend might be able to put me in touch with his company's account manager so we can bypass the normal service routes" is likely to be overstepping the mark. – timbstoke Aug 25 '17 at 11:48
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    This is AKA Networking – GibralterTop Aug 25 '17 at 12:41
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(The previous version of this answer was criticized as being too over-the-top which was not intended, so I have reorganized it for more clarity.)

The key point here is keep your manager in the loop.

From your description, it appears that your company is a customer of the other company. Check with your manager if there are any issues with contacting the other company's employees directly for official purposes. If there are none, then just inform him that you would be using personal contact to help with the client's requests. If there are, then no matter how silly it is in practice, you will have to do what the manager says.

A simple request like asking for contact information is usually not an issue, but it is a good idea to keep your manager in the loop, so that he can deal with any potential problems, such as:

  1. Violation of Contract: Your company's contract with the other company may have specified a SLA (service-level agreement) or other communication protocol to be followed for all communication. While unofficial channels are usually much more efficient to get the work done, violation of a contract is usually a lot of trouble to deal with.

  2. Unreliable communication: It is a huge risk to your client's project if the only interface with the other company is you and your friend. Their project could slow down to a crawl or even grind to a halt if either of you is unavailable. Since the work is getting done and clients are not complaining, your manager probably doesn't know (or care enough) at this point how the work is getting done. By letting your manager know that you are using unofficial contacts, you give him a chance to plan for such situations.

  3. Bypassing metrics: Management loves to track "metrics", especially in deals with other companies. Using personal contacts prevents them from getting the metrics they might be interested in. During an audit or at the end of the project, they might be "pleasantly surprised" to know that they have raised zero issues with the other company, which is misleading.

  4. Dealing with problems: It is possible that your friend could give you wrong contact information, or that the contact suggested by him creates some issues for the client. Dealing with client complaints are a part of manager's job, but they cannot do it effectively if they have no idea what is going on.


The actual answer ends above. The below fluff additional commentary is only for entertainment information. It is based on my real work experience (and not taken from an HR handbook), and may not apply to every situation.

Many companies prohibit their employees from contacting employees of client/vendor companies directly, for a number of reasons:

  1. Avoid bypassing management's priorities: When requirements come through the official communication channels, it is easier for management to prioritize the tasks. Every customer wants their issue to be given the highest priority, but nothing will get done when everything is urgent. Management assigns priority to prevent such chaos. By contacting the lower level employees directly, you bypass the management, which can create problems.

  2. Avoid perception of preferential treatment: Allowing personal contacts for communication means companies that do not have such personal contacts in the company will have to wait longer or get inferior service. Even if that is not true, the company's other customers will carry that perception if they find out about this personal contact arrangement.

  3. Official contacts are well trained for the job: Why do companies send spokespersons to press conferences instead of any random employee? How do these spokespersons respond "no comment" without batting an eyelid to controversial questions? Representing your company to outsiders is serious business, for which the company trains them thoroughly.

    When things go well, using personal contacts instead of the official channels doesn't do any harm, but when things are not so rosy, such personal contacts can create problems for the company. What happens when the personal contact doesn't give you the required information, or gives the wrong information? What if you say something rude which damages your company's relationship with the other company?

  4. Prevent accidental divulgence of confidential information: Personal contacts in companies have varying levels of awareness of corporate policies. A somewhat naive employee could unintentionally divulge company confidential information to outsiders.

  • 1
    That's a fair enough point, I suppose a way to restate the aspect you've called out is "Is it appropriate to use my own initiative to solve the problem if these communication channels have not been properly defined?" The information I acquire can then be put in the knowledge database so we are aware how to communicate. BUT, it introduces the risk that higher management already negotiated a channel that hasn't filtered down to us, and something in the way we independently attempt to make contact contravenes that negotiation. – Bruno Aug 24 '17 at 8:25
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    @Bruno That is correct, many companies have rules that prevent employees from having contact with other companies through unauthorized channels. I will write about that in more detail later. It is usually ok for you to maintain a database of information internal to your own company, but I would strongly discourage you from having unauthorized contact with other companies even for official purposes, without keeping your manager in loop. – Masked Man Aug 24 '17 at 8:38
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    In my experience, I have found personal communication to be much more reliable than communication through official channels, due to people forming emotional attachments. While this answer does sound over-the-top for smaller companies, it provides a useful point of view. – svavil Aug 24 '17 at 18:04
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    This answer reads like it was pulled from HR's employee handbook. Like most games in life, the game called "the workplace" is all about knowing which rules can be bent, and which can be broken. If I used official channels every time I needed information from a vendor, or needed a coworker in another department to help me, I would literally never get anything done because I would sitting around waiting 40 hours per week. – user16626 Aug 24 '17 at 19:44
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    Good lord. “I know someone who might know about that, I’ll ask them.” Absent any legal restrictions, anything beyond that is at best pointless overthinking, and at worst the kind of jobsworth busybody nonsense that slows everyone else down. – Paul D. Waite Aug 24 '17 at 20:55
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Can I pass this info along and say I got it from a personal contact in the other organisation?

Yes you can pass this information along. It's not even necessary to indicate where you got the information.

However, constantly bugging your friends for information is a burden on them that could get old fast. Make sure you thank them and try to limit the times you need their help. See if you can find other sources of information, if this is going to be a recurring request.

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    It's not even necessary to indicate where you got the information. +1 For this sentence. – Mister Positive Aug 24 '17 at 14:27
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    I agree with this one, your personal contacts are part of your total sum of knowledge just like your notes and education. Like those the skill is knowing when to use that resource. – joojaa Aug 25 '17 at 18:25
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In addition to the good points already brought up, there sounds to be the possibility of stepping on someone else’s toes. Not everyone is receptive to unasked for help, not at least unless they are are under time pressure or are otherwise stuck.

Make the offer and ask rather than assume they would like you to make the call. If you are on the same level as their supervisor, then make the offer to them, because they may be using this as a learning experience to build confidence and experience, which spoon feed answers don't provide.

A lot depends on your company culture and your position within the organisation, as well as how regulated your job is and needs to be.

In some circumstances and companies networking with friends and past colleagues is actively encouraged and is part of what you bring to the table.

Of course this presumes this isn't all just an excuse not to do the work you should be doing! Distracting yourself from something boring and/or hard doesn't go well in the end, despite the temptation! ;)

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I do not think it is a good idea because what if your information proves to be incorrect? Who's fault will it be? Even though your friend may be knowledgeable, it is possible that they misunderstand your question. You will end up in a very awkward position if something goes wrong.

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    Uh... yours, clearly? Just because you got information from a reliable source doesn't mean you don't need to test it. That applies regardless of where you got the information, including from the official documentation (official project documentation has been wrong on innumerable occasions.) – neminem Aug 24 '17 at 22:29
  • I feel like "Not sure why it doesn't work - we implemented it according to the official documentation" is a much better position to be in than "yeah my mate said it should work I dunno" – ESR Aug 25 '17 at 0:45
  • @EdmundReed I much prefer being in the second situation; I'm likely to get the further information I need to fix the problem faster. – Jon Hanna Aug 26 '17 at 13:47
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Personally, I would encourage a subordinate to find a solution to an answer to a question or solve a problem. 'Thinking outside the box' sometimes requires thinking out of the four walls of your company. I would use whatever resources were needed as long as it did not compromise your position or current work your company is doing. In short, it is one of those questions where where the answer truly depends on the employer.

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