She didn’t have to be one of the most famous women in the world for CIOs to recognize her type. Hillary Clinton could be any woman — or any man — with enough power and privilege to feel she’s above the law. Or at least above the organization’s IT policies.
A story by the Associated Press which said the former U.S. Secretary of State was essentially running her own e-mail server from her home has raised considerable questions about security and federal record-keeping laws. Though at least one expert suggests this was more a question of a hosted domain name than an actual server in her basement, Clinton’s behaviour suggests that it’s not just everyday employees who are choosing their own cloud-based services for professional purposes. Yet to call this shadow IT, as many are doing, is missing an essential difference involving Clinton’s authority. This isn’t shadow IT. This is VIP IT.
‘I’m An Exception’
Anyone who has worked in any large organization, or even for a small business, knows there are always higher-ups who believes the rules don’t apply to them. This can include everything from what they claim as a business expense to how much time they take off for personal reasons. Technology, which provides so many conveniences, luxuries and opportunities to gain advantage over others, is just another perk to be abused.
In this case, “abuse” might go too far. The various reports suggest Clinton and her staff were managing some of her email remotely and through third party managed services firms to protect the privacy of communications. Still, I can think of any number of ways CEOs and other senior executives could rationalize a decision to circumvent policies that CIOs have gone at pains to create and implement across an organization.
The problem with IT VIPs
VIP IT is worse than shadow IT because it conveys a sense of entitlement to which others will aspire. Just as IT experts will always say you need support from the top to get a successful project pushed through, flouting IT policies by the CEO or someone in a similar role sets a tone. It’s a tone that says, “You don’t have to take the CIO that seriously.”
For years now, I have suspected that one of the real catalysts that driven bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs into Canadian organizations is not a desire to be an “employer of choice” or to help staff feel more empowered, but to appease CEOs who wonder why they can’t connect the iPad Air they just bought to the network.
Two Tactics To Take
There’s only two ways I can think of to deal with VIP IT. One is to “manage up” and convince the Hilary Clinton in your life that what they are doing puts the organization in greater jeopardy than whatever benefit they are enjoying. That’s the hardest route, and it probably requires either a CIO who feels they can be brutally honest, or one who feels they will have the backing of other senior leaders.
The other way to manage VIP IT is to make it public. That may not have been possible or prudent in Clinton’s case, but in many organizations it’s probably better to acknowledge that being in the C-suite means you are trusted with a greater degree of flexibility than IT policies that must be obeyed by admin staff. The disgruntlement may still be there, but at least there’s a layer of honesty. After all, we all know that no IT environment is a true democracy. Even if you’re hoping to run a democracy one day.