by Carrie Mathews

CIOs Share Tips For Managing Consumer Technology

Apr 28, 20086 mins
IT Leadership

As consumer tech continues to invade the workplace, CIOs share their best practices for managing support.

You’ve noticed it seeping into the IT workday. An end user calls the support desk for help connecting a new iPod to the desktop. Another asks how to add Skype capability to the desktop. Consumer IT—technology and devices initially designed and marketed for use in the consumer space—has infiltrated the workplace.

CIOs overseeing the invasion of consumer technology know it’s not enough to simply write a management policy, post it on the intranet and then revisit it a few years down the road. “Stagnant policies and procedures just aren’t practical for these types of technology,” says Rob Israel, vice president and CIO at $400 million John C. Lincoln Health Network. Policies need to be revised on a regular basis, according to user needs and organizational security concerns; Israel revisits his every four to six months. And for any policy to work, CIOs need to have a strong communication strategy, involve users in policy creation, build in security and find a balance between restriction and freedom of use.

Communicate Existing Policies

“I know some CIOs who have 150 or 200 security policies. That’s just way too many,” says Israel. His consumer IT-related policies total 30. The limited number makes it easier to communicate the policies and their updates. When Israel’s team makes a policy addition or change, they explain the rationale to users with straightforward language. “We’ll say, ‘Do you know why we encrypt e-mail?’ Then, we’ll explain why we do it in three or four sentences,” says Israel.

Involve the End-User Community

Jay Dominick, formerly CTO at Wake Forest University and now CIO at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte , sees more consumer technologies being introduced every day. Most come from students, who tend to have both disposable income and time on their hands.

“Our policy-making process involves multiple layers of faculty, staff, student input and the legal office,” says Dominick. “So it can take six months or a year to reach consensus.” In 2000, when Napster hit university networks, Dominick says “it took almost two years before there was a response from universities as to how to manage it.”

Jet Propulsion Lab Takes Page from YouTube

Jim Rinaldi, CIO at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), is a big fan of using multimedia to receive and share information. “We encourage the use of podcasting to keep current with a topic and hope to make iTunes a standard offering on desktops,” he says. In the meantime, there’s television.

A couple of years ago, senior business executives were struggling with how best to keep staff apprised of new thinking. They came to Rinaldi with an idea: They wanted to tape seminars and meetings and make them available online. The idea clicked with Rinaldi and his team; his deputy CIO took ownership of the project.

Less than a year later, JPL-TV debuted on the corporate intranet. The tool is a variation on YouTube and currently has about 100 videos in its growing inventory, complete with search functionality (which is still maturing). Employees throughout the organization can visit JPL-TV, search for a specific video and then watch it on their desktop. The JPL-TV team is creating a set of specific management policies, which will be found on the site, and include items like permission to videotape participants in the meetings and specific guidelines about what types of meetings to include.


That was then. Students now have input in forming the policy, so the specifics get socialized among the user community before the policy debuts. This way, there are no surprises.

“A policy that is a surprise won’t get followed,” says Dominick.

Balance Policy Strictness

Given the confidentiality restrictions around patients’ medical data at John C. Lincoln Health Network, Israel employs a high level of strictness in his usage policies for consumer IT. At Kennametal, a $2 billion industrial manufacturer, there’s more leeway. IT works closely with end users to find suitable workarounds to its strict policies, says Raj Datt, VP and CIO of Global Information Technology. An example is a request for YouTube functionality by the sales staff. “Our sales team came to us asking for functionality so they could show potential clients current pricing and inventory products from a video perspective. We responded by enabling BlackBerry access to our ERP system for real-time customer data,” says Datt. Working with users to create a viable alternative has helped change their view of Kennametal IT from that of a cost center to a value-driven organization. “If we don’t give them an alternative, then they would just bypass IT,” Datt says.

Automate Enforcement

Technology tools are a good way to enforce consumer IT procedures and take control of your security landscape. Israel uses automation tools from Lumension (to prevent users from connecting an iPod to the system without prior authorization) and Pointesec (to force encryption for all removable media). “I have a love-hate relationship with thumb drives. We are moving to mandatory encryption, where the saved data is encrypted and the thumb drive itself is encrypted with biometrics,” says Israel.

Once a mobile device is configured to access the ERP system at Kennametal, an automatic security solution is deployed that includes password protection and the ability for Datt’s team to remotely lock or wipe the data if a device is lost. Datt also has policies around device procurement and supports only certain features of some devices. For example, although there is a GPS capability in the 900 BlackBerrys deployed throughout Kennametal, it is not activated for use at the server level at this time.

It is possible to reap the benefits of consumer technologies in the workplace while exercising control. At John C. Lincoln, doctors and nurses suggested an alternative use for Bluetooth headsets. IT responded and today, healthcare professionals use hands-free Bluetooth to obtain medical updates and new patient-care information. Kennametal’s CEO Carlos Cardoso joined the blogger community to communicate to employees and discuss corporate strategy.

“Technology is becoming so personal and so capable that smart people want to use it to make their work lives better,” says Dominick.

Carrie Mathews is senior manager, member services, for the CIO Executive Council.