by Thor Olavsrud

Embrace Consumerization of IT and Stop Saying No

Oct 11, 20125 mins
Consumer ElectronicsIT LeadershipIT Strategy

At CITE Forum, Noah Broadwater, CTO of Sesame Workshop, explains how his IT organization learned to stop being gatekeepers and instead be partners and advocates for the business.

One of the most important things you can do when dealing with the consumerization of IT in the enterprise is to train your staff to stop saying “no.” Instead, IT professionals must seek to understand the problem the user has and seek a solution. That’s the advice of Noah Broadwater, CTO of Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street.

“There’s chaos everywhere in IT these days, especially with what consumers are doing” he says. “You can keep your head in the sand all you want, but it’s happening.”

Speaking at CITE Forum in New York City on Wednesday, Broadwater explains that Sesame Workshop successfully transitioned from struggling against the consumerization of IT in the enterprise to embracing it and leveraging it to make employees happier and more productive.

“Today, business users are very savvy,” he says. “They know what they want and what they need. They expect technology to be easy and intuitive, as simple as what they see on their iPad or iPhone. But what they don’t understand is that it isn’t easy for IT to make that shift.”

Difficult or not, it’s a trend that is impossible to reverse, says Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, who also spoke at CITE Forum.

[Related: CIO’s Digital Spotlight on BYOD]

“Consumerization of technology is an inevitability,” he says. “It’s an inevitability because of SaaS, because of broadband in the home and because every single technology vendor in the world targets individuals now. People harness technology not because they want to but because they have to.”

Schadler notes that when Forrester asked employees why they bring personal devices or applications to work, 56 percent said it was something they needed and the company did not provide an alternative.

“If this doesn’t shock you, it should,” Schadler says. “We’re going to lose; we are losing. They’re going to go around us.”

Saying ‘No’ Leads to Shadow IT

In other words, if the IT organization responds by saying “no,” users will turn to shadow IT to get what they want. And that’s not limited to bring-your-own-device (BYOD): Rogue employees will find a way to get their work done whether they require an unsanctioned device, application or a service like Dropbox.

[Related: BlackBerry CIO on Mobile Security, BYOD and the Modern CIO Role]

For instance, Broadwater says, an employee might decide he needs the full Adobe Creative Suite, and if IT doesn’t provide it, the employee might purchase it at the full retail price and expense it to the company—a problematic outcome for any enterprise but especially tricky for a nonprofit like Sesame Workshop.

“We stopped saying no,” Broadwater says. “‘No’ has become the word I hate the most from my staff. Instead, you say: “I understand, let me look into a solution.” If you say, “Let me understand what you’re trying to solve, and I’ll try to help you,” then they don’t try to go around you.”

“IT is there to serve the company,” he adds. “IT exists as a service organization. Saying “no” keeps the company from doing its business.”

[Related: Electronic Arts Embraces BYOD, Consumerization of IT and Cloud]

Schadler agrees, “What you should be saying is: ‘Oh you need it! How do you need it? Why do you need it? What characteristics are most important to you? How can we scale it to the rest of the organization? How can you help us, the business, succeed? How can I help you take advantage of that technology?”

Form a Governance Steering Committee

That’s not to say Sesame Workshop simply approves every request that comes its way. Broadwater’s organization still requires a legitimate business reason before approving certain technologies or purchases. In fact, to further governance, Broadwater established a governance steering committee that includes representatives from the legal and finance departments as well as the lines of business. The steering committee’s job is to understand the needs and wants that exist in the company and to evaluate technologies and the risks associated with them.

The next step was to create a simple, actionable policy, Broadwater says.

“Don’t create policies that look like a lawyer wrote it,” he says. “You don’t want a 10-page policy that they’re not going to read. Create simple, actionable policies.”

Broadwater says that it’s important to keep employees up-to-date and educated. Sesame Workshop holds what it calls “Lunch and Learn” sessions about once a month to both talk about technologies and how to use them safely as well as to listen to employees. Additionally, employees who want to bring their own device to work need to attend two special training sessions before they are allowed to do so.

Ending the practice of saying “no” is also likely to win you a lot more friends in the business, Broadwater says, adding that his organization won the highest satisfaction ratings it ever recorded the year it began allowing employees to use iPhones.

“If your company does annual reviews, always have in your pocket one really cool technology that your users are going to love,” he says. “Bring it out right before annual reviews and you’ll get the biggest bonus you’ve ever seen.”

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at