Medieval society revolved around the knight. I recall that James Burke, the British polymath saying how the introduction of the stirrup via Afghanistan to Europe led to mounted knights, whose military successes led to a desire for bigger horses, which led to a form of agriculture suited to breeding bigger horses, which required dukes to oversee an extended agricultural enterprise, which all evolved into the feudal system. In medieval times, decisions about who got to wear the shining armour, how it was to be worn and used, and who had to clean up after the animals, cut the wood or stoke the fires associated with making metal suits of armour were not left to chance. The cost of armour, horses and weapons was quite significant. An entire economy had to be created to get the knight up on horseback and ready for combat.
Space Age suits of armour -- what modern-day astronauts wear for extravehicular activity -- similarly required a restructuring of society. Getting us to the moon involved coordinating the efforts of 300,000 people and innumerable physical systems.
How much focus and oversight should we apply to suiting up terrestrial executives? One might argue that things are quite different for today's Earth-based cyber-knights. Digital armour is affordable. Just about anyone of reasonable means and modest technological acumen can go to a Best Buy and digitally suit up. This has given rise to IT's crisis du jour -- consumerisation .
Consumerisation is significant for IT. Enterprise IT chieftains are besieged with demands to either replicate or propagate the features, functions and "cool factor" of digital devices created for the consumer.
Tom Davenport holds the president's chair in IT and management at Babson College. In a must-read article in McKinsey Quarterly , he questions the sagacity of adopting a laissez-faire strategy to provisioning the technology for next-generation knowledge workers. Davenport labels the norm of knowledge worker technology provisioning "the free-access model," and he analyses it this way:
"The most common approach, giving knowledge workers free access to a wide variety of tools and information resources, presumes that these employees will determine their own work processes and needs.
"In the free-access model, the presumption is that knowledge workers, as experts, know what information is available and can search for and manage it themselves. It's also assumed that they have the discipline to avoid wasting time surfing the Web or watching pornography, sports, or funny YouTube videos at work. Of course, these assumptions may sometimes be incorrect."
Around the world, IT leaders are attempting to balance "give them what they want" with the enterprise's ability to professionally determine and provision "what they need." I welcome your comments.
Thornton A. May is the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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