Down To Business: Consumer Technology And The IT Democracy - InformationWeek
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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Consumer Technology And The IT Democracy

Don't be dragged kicking and screaming onto the emerging business technology campus.

If ever there was a technology movement in search of a middle ground, it's the "democratization" of enterprise software, devices, and other tools--the so-called consumer effect. On one extreme are those who view the workplace as an extension of their personal lives, insisting on using their technology their way regardless of company protocol. On the other end are the IT, governance, and compliance hawks who have zero tolerance for any technologies and processes that aren't company-developed, -issued, or -certified. It's a battle for control.

A couple of recent incidents show that employees don't always know where to draw the line in their use of consumer technologies and platforms--and how companies will draw it for them, sometimes after the fact. Virgin Atlantic a couple of weeks ago fired 13 cabin crew staffers who allegedly used Facebook to slag off passengers and criticize the airline's safety standards. A year or so ago, one of the big IT services firms fired a bunch of entry-level consultants for a similar indiscretion--evidently they weren't aware that posting their frat-party photos online for all to see could reflect poorly on their employer.

These aren't just exceptionally stupid mistakes. According to survey results released by Accenture last week, 26% of working Millennials (age 27 and younger) say they write openly about themselves and their friends online. Some 31% of respondents say they aren't aware of their company having a policy related to posting work or client information on a public Web site; 17% say their company hasn't published such a policy; 6% say their company's policy is too dense to understand; and 6% say they do what they like, regardless of what the company says.

But beyond such wanton cluelessness, what of employees who insist on using their own Web collaboration and other apps, mashups, RSS feeds, social networking sites, smartphones, and open source programs to do real work? According to the Accenture survey, that's the expectation of most Millennials. In fact, more than half of survey respondents say access to state-of-the-art technology is an important consideration for them when choosing an employer.

Many employers still take a different tack. For example, 48% of the companies in the 2008 InformationWeek 500 ranking--the most innovative and tech-savvy organizations in the land--discourage employees from using unapproved consumer Web applications, up from 42% in 2007. Only 30% say their companies encourage employees to use consumer apps they find useful, down from 33% last year. So it appears companies are becoming more stringent, not less--not a positive trend, even if rogue tech usage poses serious security, compliance, integration, and management problems. If those issues always ruled the day, instant messaging, a staple of today's knowledge professional, never would have made it into the enterprise.

The most enlightened companies are reaching out to their employees to identify consumer functionality they can bring into the enterprise pretty much as is (think AIM, Google Apps, and the iPhone), buy from enterprise-oriented Web 2.0 vendors (Clearspace, SelectMinds, Socialtext, Visible Path, and the like), or bolt onto their SharePoint, Lotus, or other existing systems. Blogs are a nonstarter at most companies, the Accenture survey finds. What employees are really demanding are more intuitive collaboration, project management, and community tools, and leading companies such as Coke, Motorola, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Schwab are providing them to spur product development and to build brand awareness and loyalty with new sets of customers.

Where's the middle ground between the new and old school? Somewhere on the new school's premises. Don't be dragged kicking and screaming onto this emerging business technology campus. In addition to making users happier and more productive, these tools can be a lot cheaper, freeing up dollars for other game-changing efforts that require more aggressive IT control.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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