A few months ago, I was getting a brutal headache reading the hundreds of CIO 100 applications stored in our database. We connect to them through our IE browser, and I couldn’t make the teeny-tiny type any bigger. So, as is my habit, I complained to anyone who would listen. And then a writer said, "I can fix that," and it was for him but the work of a moment to download Mozilla’s Firefox browser. Voil¿I could make the type as large as I wanted.
So I took a stroll around the office, glancing at people’s screens, and I saw some remarkable stuff. Odd looking desktops with odd looking icons. Trillian IM conversations. Gmail and Google desktop search and Weatherfox. FileZilla. Spybot Search & Destroy. Not to mention iTunes everywhere. It’s an IT potpourri out there, and it has nothing to do with our IT department. Employees downloaded these apps from the Web because a) they’re available, b) they’re (mostly) free, c) they’re cool, and d) most important, they help them do their jobs better, enabling them to do things that our own enterprise-supplied apps don’t let them do, or don’t let them do as well.
This is a big deal, and this sea change is the subject of Susannah Patton’s story "Consumer Appeal," on Page 63, and Michael Schrage’s column,"Digital Subversives," on Page 38.
Once upon a time, the IT you got at work was better than anything you could get yourself. No more. In fact, these days the IT you get in the office frequently looks old-fashioned by comparison. Half of the respondents to a Gartner survey reported that 60 percent of their IT users are employing consumer-grade software in the office whether or not their IT department approves. And some enterprises are responding in a predictable manner, banning unauthorized software and electronics from the office.
Bad idea. You might as well stand by the shore and tell the tide to cease rising.
Not that this trend doesn’t generate problems for CIOs. These applications can eat up server space; they can be destabilizing, and those that connect to enterprise systems—such as desktop search—can blow big holes in a company’s network security.
But, as Patton and Schrage point out, nobody’s going to stop people from using IT that makes their lives easier and allows them to be more productive. Without that Firefox browser, for example, I could not have done as good a job vetting those applications.
The challenge for CIOs will be to learn how to manage IT in this new environment, making it safe and leveraging it for business advantage. Ways to do this are already percolating. Check out Patton’s and Schrage’s articles to find out what some of these strategies are.
And don’t be scared. The IT future belongs to the users, which is how it should be.