Let’s face it, monopolies are evil. They distort markets, result in higher prices and stifle innovation. This is true whether the monopoly controls an industry, a sport or a way of thinking. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil created artificially high prices until broken up, the NFL resisted updating its rules until the upstart AFL emerged and the Catholic Church’s control over people’s beliefs and lifestyles resulted in the Dark Ages.
Similarly, CIOs long held a monopoly over computing practices within many companies. Employees could select any computer they wanted as long as it was a Dell, HP or IBM approved by the IT department. Linking a personal laptop to the network – fuggedaboudit!
Dan Woods, a Forbes Contributor, noted in a recent column that the role of the CIO is changing from benevolent dictator to product manager. Rather than dictate what computers and devices employees can use, what programs and apps employees can download, and how employees communicate with co-workers and outside people, CIOs are becoming managers of networks that enable employees to make many of these decisions themselves. The role of the IT teams is evolving to one of enablers: ensuring employees have access to critical information, are able to effectively and efficiently communicate and that their laptops and a host of other smart devices are protected.
The issue arises, of course, that when employees set up their own solutions without IT approval, they risk the security of the entire enterprise. Just a couple of devices without proper security can open the whole network to hackers. Storing sensitive customer information in a public folder on Dropbox or Google Docs can have catastrophic consequences.
Woods asserts that he would set a policy whereby employees would have to inform IT of any technology they are using so that IT can use APIs and other methods to monitor usage and ensure security issues are addressed. He also asked Lew Moorman, president-cloud and chief strategy officer his recommendations – and Lew said Dan was “living in a dream” if he thought employees would actually do this. While Dan’s point that employees and IT have a common goal of protecting information and managing technology effectively, I’m with Lew. Employees will forget the policy or ignore it.
There are definite benefits to the concept of “consumerizing” an enterprise’s equipment. Employees who select their own devices are likely to be more productive and invested in taking care of these devices and making sure they function properly.
But there needs to be some structure to this approach. The IT team must be able to control risks to the network and it’s not realistic to expect IT to provide strong end user support for a near infinite combination of devices. Also, employees may choose equipment that’s attractive and fun to use, but not necessarily suited to their job functions. It seems like a reasonable compromise is to have a wide range of “approved” devices, apps and software to ensure IT teams can provide high-quality support, while giving employees options. IT teams might build on this concept by offering a series of “packages” that include laptops, phones and tablets.
In this scenario, the CIO is the “product manager” with providing fast, efficient, reliable and secure access to critical information as the “product.” Clearly, the "consumerization of the enterprise" train has left the station, IT teams won’t be able to stop it -- and they shouldn’t want to. Employees trying new devices will spark new ways to harness technology to work more efficiently.
One important area of managing an increasing number of devices is ensuring the software in place is free of technical debt. This is the extra code that never gets removed, the poorly organized code that accomplishes a task but with more lines than necessary, and the copy and pasted code that was perfect in one situation, but not in another. Over time, this code bogs down the application and users. A disciplined approach to automated software analysis and measurement can prevent business disruptions while reducing IT maintenance and development costs. While all enterprises will experience some technical debt, managing it effectively can ensure that important information is always available for users.