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7/16/2009
02:57 PM
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Government And The Consumer Effect

Last week at an employee town hall meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was faced with a question that executives in commercial businesses have been facing for years. Why can't employees use the technologies with which they are most familiar?

Last week at an employee town hall meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was faced with a question that executives in commercial businesses have been facing for years. Why can't employees use the technologies with which they are most familiar?Recent State Department hire Jim Finkle wanted to use the Mozilla Firefox browser, and judging from the applause that followed his suggestion in a transcript of remarks at the town hall, so too do plenty of other departmental employees. There's just one problem: the Department of State doesn't allow or support Firefox.

Cost of managing the software was issue numero uno for under secretary for management Patrick Kennedy, to whom Clinton deferred. Even though Firefox is nominally free, he said, "it has to be administered, patches have to be loaded." That cost, however, may well be offset by productivity gains from employees who use Firefox in their everyday lives with add-ons and keyboard shortcuts to make their jobs easier.

Employees are increasingly dealing with this type of problem at work, and companies and organizations are going to increasingly have to try to meet their demands. However, if employees can use the technologies with which they are most familiar, they'll likely be happier and more productive.

That cost may also be offset by a decrease in the number of security vulnerabilities and possibility of attacks. Microsoft has long been a big target for hackers, and though Internet Explorer 8 is the safest IE version yet, doesn't have the most spotless browser security record. Firefox, meanwhile, despite some notable recent vulnerabilities, has gotten generally high marks for security and still doesn't have the market share (or thus the target size) of Internet Explorer

The consumerization of IT -- which we've been writing about for years now -- is inevitable, and will only get stronger as digital natives raised on Facebook and YouTube flood the workplace, wondering why they can't use the software and services that they grew up with.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra knows this, and he mentions it in just about every speech and interview these days, but it's not clear how strongly the message has filtered out. It's a lesson government -- which might not be able to compete with many private-sector employers on pay, but could on intangibles like this one -- is well-advised to take to heart and to keep there.

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