Who’s the real tyrant: the user or the CIO?

“Tyranny of the user” is how a CIO recently described his users’ expectations for IT support of their consumer devices for corporate activities.  Tyranny is a strong word. The real complaint is that the mass market, the handheld device, and internet access everywhere, have replaced the days of tyranny by the IT department. 

Technology is no longer the preserve of corporate IT to parcel out.  It has become a major part of how we live, work, and play.  The “free” with a 2-year plan 16GB Smartphone has more processor power in it than the mainframes of two decades ago and an interface that is intuitive and friendly to even the most technophobic.

The pervasiveness of the technology has made the marketplace the leader, with corporate IT trailing far behind.  What isn’t IT leadership is focus on XP, prohibiting Facebook and Twitter on the corporate network, and ignoring the reality of the personal device being used as a corporate tool.        

There are compelling reasons for corporate IT standards and mandating use of corporate devices. IT provisioned equipment is configured for appropriate access, security, and supportable applications.

That said, with the rise of the remote employee, many of these standards have already eroded. Employees use their own systems at home with increased potential for access by non-company staff and greater risk of data leakage should the system be hacked, a memory key lost or file sent home via public email. For the most part, this is tolerated as being an acceptable trade-off. No need to buy everyone a company laptop or maintain expensive office space for “bums in the seats.”

Mobile devices are now entering their second generation – a full functioned PC constrained by its phone or tablet format. For corporate IT, mobile device support is complicated by multiple standards and tough integration issues for even simple things: sending and receiving email, calendar synchronization.  For documents, what about SharePoint integration, which was to be the answer to secure document access with appropriate controls on revisioning and access?  With four families of devices – RIM Blackberry, Apple iPxx, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows mobile – support is a potential nightmare.  Somebody must be building a nice middleware platform that can talk Exchange server or Lotus notes across this polyglot world, but can our users wait?

Corporate IT doesn’t support user devices: what the employees do on their own time isn’t the company’s concern.  That’s policy, but not reality.  The real world is increasingly fusing work and personal time, for everyone in the company, not just the IT people on-call.  Your personal device – admit it, you have an iPhone or an Android even though your policy is Blackberry – is on 24/7.  You, like much of the company’s staff, are expected to be available anytime you may be needed.  As IT’s role is to support the company’s business by providing the tools and systems needed to enable and increase employee productivity, support for the users of these devices is corporate IT’s responsibility.     

Key is letting your users set expectations.  Active listening skills and a can-do attitude is a must.  Some of what is asked will be naive or unachievable given currently available product, but the discussion needs to take place, frankly and transparently.  IT has to be honest and realistic to be credible as a partner, not as a naysayer.  This art of the possible and practical at a given price point needs to be coupled with recognition that some things will still require a PC, mobile devices aren’t replacing the full desktop, either at home or in the office.  It also means you may have to deliver clunky interim solutions.  So be it.  Label it as such so no one has any illusions that it’s anything but one of a series of short-term solutions to provide some needed functionality quickly.  Make it the best you can with what you deliver and then keep revising it to align with your users’ evolving needs and as better solutions become available.  

Assuming that the solution must have full and tight integration may be missing an opportunity, as is supporting every flavour of device to the same level.  Explore what’s really needed and, with your users, develop a prioritized list by those wants and speed to implement.  Online banking online can be done with any web browser, on any platform, mobile or not. Think transactionally – simple interactions, low function, visible results.  IT facilitating this gives the users what they want and is the opportunity for IT to build in better and less intrusive controls at the same time. Win/win.    

Your users expect work and personal life blending.  With control over how and when they do their work, they can be more productive, on their terms, not constrained by arbitrary policies. Accepting that the user is the boss is essential to delivering your mandates: ensure access to corporate information by the right people at the right time that it is secure and easy to use, regardless of platform.  This requires the active cooperation of your users, fostered by trust. 

Policies or lack of function that impedes doing their work their way will be ignored or subverted – users figured out how to move files from the office to home and back on USB keys or email years ago. Tyranny of the user means IT uses carrots; the stick is the users’ hands.

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