In my job I’m fortunate that I get to meet regularly with customers and speak at industry conferences. These discussions offer a great opportunity to get the pulse of the industry, so to speak, and understand which topics are driving the conversation today. I’d say the question I’m most asked lately is a variation of this: How can IT standardize workplace applications and still give employees the freedom they demand for their day-to-day activities?
The consumerization of IT is certainly not a new topic, but the fact that many business users continually circumvent IT illustrates a key corporate challenge of today: striking a balance between user autonomy and IT control.
Lately while presenting at several industry conferences, I’ve asked the audience how many of them use Skype for business. Generally about two-thirds raise their hands. When I ask my follow-up: how many of those Skype installations were handled by IT, only a few hands remain in the air. I find it so interesting that users will circumvent IT – even if it means IT will not support them in using this non-standard service. Put simply, the user is stating, “My workstyle requires this. If IT can’t do it, I’ll do it myself.”
Today’s employee is a digital native, an experienced computer user who doesn’t want the IT department to dictate to them– they want the freedom and access they feel necessary for their job. IT, on the other hand, is tasked with standardizing and securing all user services and devices to prevent the corruption or loss of corporate data. Something has to give, and IT feels it has only two options: fight against IT consumerization, or accept and embrace it. The advice I give is to meet somewhere in the middle: give users the flexibility they need while also setting boundaries.
Think about the last trip you made to Subway. While the choices for your sandwich were vast, they weren’t unlimited. You could choose your bread, meat, condiments, etc., but could you order a peanut butter and jelly? Could you add anchovies to your sandwich? No. I believe IT can benefit from a similar self-service framework – offer users a wide range of services and allow them to pick and choose which ones they want. With this approach, you’re giving users freedom, but you’re not handing the keys over to them, either.
IT has the ability to offer this choice. Years ago, when I first started my technology career as a systems administrator, it was much different. IT was mainly managing and providing very strict standards for the device assigned to each department. The best practice was to define workplace services for each role in an organization – marketing had their defined standards, sales and HR had theirs, and so on. If you were in marketing and you wanted a standardized service that only HR had access to, you were out of luck, unless you could befriend someone in IT!
Nowadays, this doesn’t make sense for an organization. John in sales does not have same standards as Jim in sales – they have developed their own business habits likely based on personal user preference. Today’s IT needs to come up with smart ways to rollout standards while maintaining their own configurations. IT has to manage and support the flexible work style of a user – even independent of the device.
I think a self-service model like Subway’s is the key to striking the balance between users and IT. If your users are demanding and can’t work within the defined standards and service bundles you’ve set, you need to make sure there is a self-service strategy to help users build their own bundle. (That they can build their own sandwich within the available choices – to stick with the Subway example.) Look at Dropbox and Box.net – both are great examples of services that have spread throughout organizations, because IT could not provide standardized, adequate alternatives for fast and simple file exchange with colleagues or external parties. Their popularity highlights that fact that, if IT does not provide access to a standardized version of the service, then users will find their own solutions, bypassing IT.
Every user’s needs are different, so don’t try to shoehorn everyone into the same framework. You might standardize 20 IT services and leave it open to a project manager to select or approve what his/her team needs. Some might need 10 services, some might need 15. The point is that you’re giving them the autonomy to choose their applications while maintaining boundaries you’ve set.
You’re giving power to the user, but you’re still in control.