IT Managers Can't Be Drill Sergeants - InformationWeek

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02:09 PM
Michael Healey
Michael Healey
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IT Managers Can't Be Drill Sergeants

Learn how to make the consumerization of IT work for you at Interop, where we'll discuss how to balance the needs of the business against maintaining a happy workforce.

Remember the first time you beat your father at a sport? Chances are, dad looked at you with a mix of pride in your achievement and sadness at the passing of his peak. If you work in IT today, you're probably no stranger to that look; we see it all the time from end users as they bring their own (better) gear into the workplace.

However, for most IT teams I work with, there's no sense of excitement or a desire to make the most of what's out there. Usually it's quite the opposite, with IT in the role of fighter pilot trainer/masochistic parent Lt. Col. Bull Meechum from The Great Santini: "Are you gonna cry if they take your iPad, big shot tech man? Are you?" Security crackdowns, policy edicts from on high, firings of staff who use social networking at work--Gitmo's got nothing on you.

If you're chuckling right now, you're part of the problem. This is a golden opportunity to redefine the user experience, not by forcing users into our vision, but by making them part of the solution. Consumer-driven technology can work for most organizations. And anyway, tech vendors have a new secret weapon.

Case in point: tablets. We all have older versions of these devices sitting around the gear closet. Hell, even Moses had two. Everyone from HP, Dell, and IBM to Symbol and Grid Pad has put one out. Their mistake, though, was trying to get them into enterprise users' hands from the top down. Didn't work.

Why is the iPad different? First, it's a slick, elegant piece of technology. Second, Apple didn't bother trying to promote it via IT, it went straight to the user. Watch a few iPad commercials; pitches for healthcare, publishing, and manufacturing are all mixed in right next to e-books and Angry Birds. Jobs went around us.

This was a stroke of marketing genius, one I fully expect all tech vendors to emulate. And not just for gear. It's part of the cloud/Web 2.0 trend that's given everyone a whole range of technology to work with. Tiny email allotment? Gmail. Server share full? Dropbox. Suddenly Debbie from HR can set herself up with a multi-device, single-sign-on system. Cobble together any combination of HootSuite, Google Docs, Skype, and an 11n home network, access it all via a smartphone, netbook, and slick laptop, and for less than two grand she can track all levels of her information systems with a full 360-degree view. From anywhere.

Can she do that with your systems?

You may say, "Of course not, but …" and rifle off a litany of excuses from compliance and scalability to fault tolerance, but you're talking to the wrong guy. Tell it to your end users. You may say, "They don't get the big picture," and you're probably right. That's your fault. Chances are you haven't given them a roadmap since you upgraded from Windows 98.

Try this instead: Lay out your IT strategy, but be respectful of their new technology comfort level. For example, put the context of the corporate security policy in the framework of the information folks unwittingly agree to when they accept FaceBook's default. You'll do two things: 1. Show them you really do understand the big picture, and 2. scare the hell out of them when they understand what they're sharing, thus making them more amenable to those security policies.

At my Interop session, Making the Consumerization of IT Work for You, I’ll lay out some tips for applying processes that balance the needs of the business against a happy workforce. My co-presenters, Mike Davis and Jonathan Feldman, will add security and governance perspectives.

Hey, no one said you can't still lay down some rules. But you can't be drill sergeant dad anymore.

Mike Healey is the president of Yeoman Technology Group, an engineering and research firm focusing on maximizing technology investments for organizations, and an InformationWeek Analytics contributor. He has more than 23 years experience in technology and software integration.

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