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Google's IT Department To Google Staff: Use Whatever Hardware And Software You Want

Google's CIO lets employees pick whichever hardware / operating system they want and download whatever software they feel they need to be productive. If you think it sounds like a security nightmare, you'd be wrong. Google's model is all about choice, even if it is a little less cost efficient.
Google's CIO lets employees pick whichever hardware / operating system they want and download whatever software they feel they need to be productive. If you think it sounds like a security nightmare, you'd be wrong. Google's model is all about choice, even if it is a little less cost efficient.Douglas Merrill, Google's chief information officer, recently gave out some pretty interesting answers in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Rather than standardize everyone onto one system and lock everything down, Google approaches things differently. He said, "We're a decentralized technology organization, in that almost everyone at Google is some type of technologist. At most organizations, technology is done by one organization... You don't have the freedom to do anything. Google's model is choice. We let employees choose from a bunch of different machines and different operating systems, and [my support group] supports all of them."

You'd think that would lead to the largest volume of help desk calls in the world, but that's not the case. "We offer a lot more self-service," Merrill said. "For example, let's say you want a new application to do something. You could take your laptop to a tech, but you can also go to an internal Web site where you download it and install the software. We allow all users to download software for themselves."

Rather than lock down the user work stations or endpoints, Google parses all the software that's available for download through its powerful security filters. It has filled its infrastructure with the security necessary to keep the system safe. This includes antivirus and anti-spyware software on user machines as well as in the mail and data servers.

What are the benefits of this model? Merrill says Google's workers are more productive, because they're using platforms and form factors with which they're comfortable, as well as the software they really need to get their work done.

I find it hard to fault this argument. In my own experience, I was least happy with my work computers when they were completely locked down and inaccessible to me aside from running company-approved software. Even though I can digest the overall security ideals of that model, I was supremely dissatisfied with my equipment and the tools I was given to do my job.

Now, I use what I want. That includes hardware, software, whatever. My own personal productivity has jumped through the roof because I'm not spending time dealing with an IT department to get what I need. I simply download or buy it on my own and get back to work. This does probably cost my employer more in equipment expenditure, but it reaps the rewards in improved productivity.

This scenario, in part, has to be a portion of Google's success with this model so far.