User Management - Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them

A new IT department is being born. You don’t control it. You may not even be aware of it. But your users are, and figuring out how to work with it will be the key to your future and your company’s success.

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Thu, February 15, 2007

CIO — An April 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 45 percent of adults who use the Internet said it has improved their ability to do their jobs “a lot.”

These are your employees, and their message couldn’t be clearer: Technology, at least in their eyes, has made them significantly more productive. But CIOs shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back just yet. For this productivity boost the study credits the Internet, not enterprise IT, not the technology you provide, not, in short, you. And while Pew’s finding undoubtedly includes people who use the Internet to access your corporate applications, Lee Rainie, the Pew project director, says the research is not pointing to what a good job CIOs have been doing.

It tells a different tale.

“The big story is that the boundary that existed in people’s lives between the workplace and the home has broken down,” says Rainie. Almost unlimited storage and fast new communication tools allow people to use whatever information they choose, whenever they want to, from wherever is most convenient for them.

According to Pew, 42 percent of Internet users download programs, 37 percent use instant messaging, 27 percent have used the Internet to share files, and 25 percent access the Internet through a wireless device. (And these numbers are all one or two years old. Rainie “would bet the ranch” that the current numbers are higher.)

Does that sound like the tools you’ve provided your company’s employees? Do you encourage them to download programs and share files? Do you support IM? Have you outfitted a quarter of your company’s employees with wireless devices?

Really?

“A consequence of the blending of worlds is that people bring gadgets from their home life into the workplace and vice versa,” says Rainie. For example, a December 2006 survey by Searchsecurity.com found that only 29 percent of companies had a corporate instant messaging tool, a number that seems relatively small when compared with the percentage of people Pew says use IM in the office.

Users have a history of providing their own technology, but the capabilities of today’s consumer IT products and the ease with which users can find them is unprecedented. Thumb drives, often given away free at conferences, provide gigabytes of transportable storage. Google spreadsheets and other online documents let multiple people collaborate in one file. The Motorola Q, a phone that uses the cell network as an always-on high-speed Internet connection (and can be yours for just $125 on eBay) lets users forward their work e-mail to their phones without ever touching a mail server. And that’s only three examples. There’s a consumer technology out there for every task imaginable—and if there isn’t, there’s a tool that will let someone create it tomorrow.

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