Engaging the Debate over Who Should Control Corporate IT

Are large IT shops repressing individual users' creativity? Or do the centralized capabilities empower iPod toting twentysomethings to get value from their gizmos?

Large IT shops are “the most regressive and poisonous force in technology today,” said Walter Mossberg, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, in a speech in June to 250 college and university presidents and administrators.

A lot of IT professionals seem to agree with him, according to the comments posted on Mossberg’s statement on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website. Wrote one CIO, “As much as reading about Mr. Mossberg’s comments makes my forehead red, if we think he’s completely off base with this assessment, we are kidding ourselves.”

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Mossberg seems to be saying that CIOs have two possible paths to tread. One is to create an infrastructure that encourages the self-enabled, free-to-download, creative-minded user (like so many of the twentysomethings entering your workplace today). The other is to stick employees in a locked-down, generic, single-vendor, highly secure environment run by central IT. (To learn how CIOs can find an acceptable middle ground, read How CIOs Can Learn to Love IM Messages, Social Networking Sites, Blogs, Wikis and Other Tools of User Empowerment.)

Of course, many people label Mossberg as a “device junkie living in another world” and recommend that IT professionals ignore his advice.

The use of technology in large firms and, in particular, the challenge of managing the needs of diverse employees was summed up well by one CIO who wrote, “Making [IT infrastructures] work for [both] the extraordinarily technology literate users and the ‘we-need-an-easy-button’ crowd is impossible.”

During his speech, Mossberg displayed an iPhone as an example of creativity, which inspired one CIO to write, “Enjoy your iPhone, Mr. Mossberg. Where did all the music come from again? Oh yeah —a central, finite music library in a specific format from a specific company that charges you a monthly fee to keep you from going anywhere else. This is some forward, nonpoisonous thinking for you!”

Hmmm. Sure sounds like the typical central IT control model to me.

What are your thoughts? Are Mossberg’s “most regressive and poisonous” comments off base? Or, as one CIO asked, “Is his the voice of the customer challenge and opportunity that CIOs are afraid of?”

Don’t you be afraid. Share your thoughts now.

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