End users gaining in the desktop duel


Over the years, the pendulum has often swung back and forth between the IT department and the end user, with the groups often at loggerheads for control of the desktop. The trick has always been balancing IT’s desire for control, security and standardization versus the desire of the end user for more freedom to customize their user experience.

Young people entering the workforce today are more technologically literate than ever before. Technology has long been a key part of their lives, and they’re used to having a certain degree of freedom in how they manage it. One analyst says this is sure to create challenges for IT managers, dubbing the phenomenon the “consumerization” of the desktop.

“In the past, IT organizations were trying to create the standard image, the desktop lockdown,” said Tom Eid, a research vice-president with Gartner Research. “Lo and behold, the end users say, ‘But you’re not giving me the things I want, so I’ll go out and get [them].’”

Eid said that, depending on the organization, trying to maintain that strict control over the desktop is almost becoming a losing battle. With their technological know-how and expertise, today’s end user can be a wily adversary.

“Many times, the users can be very clever and find ways around the attempts of IT to create that standard image and locked-down desktop,” said Eid. “For IT to try to control that is going to be much, much more difficult.”

The thing to do, said Eid, is to work with end users. Make sure they have the right level of access and control for their specific job role and responsibilities. It will vary from job to job.

While a knowledge worker may need a variety of ways to find information and collaborate with people, someone in a call centre or help desk position, with three or four people sharing a desktop over the course of a 24-hour day, would probably merit a more standardized set of desktop tools.

For Mississauga, Ont.-based pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, the consumerization of IT is a strategic focus and part of the company’s emerging technology framework. Sav DiPasquale, GlaxoSmithKline’s vice-president of IT and CIO, said the strategy asks IT to start looking at the rapid movement taking place in the consumer space of technology. “People are buying things like cell phones, and iPods, and perhaps better computers than we provide them, and when they run into a problem they don’t call IT for help,” said DiPasquale. “I think there’s a great opportunity for us to leverage what’s happening with this new generation.”

He added that GlaxoSmithKline even hopes to leverage the capability of pervasive consumer IT tools in the corporate world to reduce IT costs for the company itself.

“You have to wrap that all around compliance, risk management and security,” cautioned DiPasquale. “But there is an opportunity there to take the consumerization of IT to the next level and perhaps drive hyper-growth in operational excellence. There’s no doubt it’s a very exciting challenge.”

What some call consumerization is really just a continuation of trends we’ve already been experiencing, said Joel Martin, vice-president, enterprise software with IDC Canada.

“It does cause a certain amount of conflict between a more rigorous IT organization versus the kind of flexibility and adaptability that new workers like,” conceded Martin. But he added that new technology, from Web 2.0 to Apple’s Widgets and Microsoft’s Gadgets for the desktop, is giving IT departments the ability to offer end users the level of customization and freedom they want within corporate standards for security and control.

Martin said he envisions the answer to the challenge centering around content management. The IT department needs to give the end user the content they need in a unified view, through a portal or a Web application. The end user will be able to manipulate and customize how the information is presented; behind the scenes IT controls the content management system that “mashes up” the information from various backend systems.

It is IT’s responsibility to decide on the apps to do that information mash-up in a way that meets corporate IT standards but still delivers the right information to the right people with a certain degree of freedom.

Getting this balance right could be a boon for the corporate IT department, Martin added.

“If they can provide the right access and the right information in an easy way for users, that obviously will enhance the value (IT) brings to the company,” said Martin, adding that there is the potential for the pendulum to swing back to IT being an innovator and value-creator once more.

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— With files from CIO Canada


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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
As an assistant editor at IT World Canada, Jeff Jedras contributes primarily to CDN and ITBusiness.ca, covering the reseller channel and the small and medium-sized business space.

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