Google CIO: Don't Fight Consumerization of IT

In a Bloomberg Businessweek article, Google CIO Ben Fried reflects on the benefits of letting employees have their way with technology. Forrester Research agrees that IT managers should relinquish control, but not before methodically analyzing workers' wants and needs.

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Mon, October 03, 2011

CIO — In a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, Google CIO Ben Fried penned an ode to letting go.

That may sound a bit "Zen Buddhist," but it's becoming a critical message for the modern CIO. With the workplace being invaded by workers armed with personal tablets, laptops and smartphones demanding to rule their own tech destiny, what is a CIO to do to prevent chaos?

Step one, according to Google's Fried, is not to fight it. He admits up front that most CIOs are cautious by nature. They are typically in charge of the largest cost center in the company, and most of the technology budget is for hardware and software that was bought last year or the year before.

"The CIO ends up moving slowly, while being the face of technology — one of the fastest-moving industries in the world," writes Fried. Yet CIOs also must contend with "cosmic pressures like cloud computing services and the rise of consumer technology that are forcing change in the landscape."

Learning how to harness all that change, instead of fighting it, is what will separate the successful CIOs of the future, writes Fried. However, he does concede that it is difficult for CIOs to give up control because for so many years they have written the checks and determined what technology employees would use. When workers bring their iPhones to IT and demand that they be connected to the corporate network, CIOs may feel that their authority is being undermined.

"They tend to see that as, 'Oh my God, they are imposing on me,'" writes Fried. But on the other hand, that's one device that the company won't have to pay for.

"It's one less thing you have to buy and one less carrier contract you have to maintain," he writes. "It is one problem off your organization's back." Fried did not always believe in allowing employees to choose what technologies they want to use for work. He thought it would be very costly, but was surprised to discover that "when you give people the choice of their toolset, they end up supporting themselves much more."

It's worth noting that this kind of do-it-yourself policy would work better at Google, a place brimming with tech-savvy employees. Try it at an insurance company and you're likely to get different results.

But one thing holds true in this new era of consumer IT: You have to trust your users, but you also have to know what makes them tick in order to know the limits of that trust.

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