Culture clash, internet style

Culture clash, internet style

Just when CIOs thought they had won the battle to lock down the desktop, the end user computing genie is back out of the bottle.

Security; Compliance; Reliability; Support; are four good reasons to button PCs down in the interests of corporate IT ‘hygiene’. Desktops, laptops and smartphones are an organisation’s digital perimeter — entry points for malware and inappropriate downloads. The only way to ensure security and reliability is to enforce a locked and standardised operating environment on each device. Maybe! Just when the battle against undisciplined devices on the corporate network seemed to have been won, new skirmishes are breaking out left, right and centre. “Why can’t I have at work what I have at home?” ask users with unfettered internet access at home wanting the same at work. Many web applications require the installation of software and plug-ins, or otherwise violate corporate IT policies. ‘Computer says no!’ Dang!

The rise of the internet means more useful information, services and data now reside outside an organisation’s digital frontiers.

Knowledge workers need the flexibility to look beyond the corporate borders. Many are becoming increasingly frustrated with restrictive corporate IT policies, locked-down devices and arbitrary distinctions between ‘work’ and ‘play’. Innovation and personal productivity are sometimes at odds with corporate IT ‘hygiene’ and efficiency.

As always, users are creative in finding ways around such IT tyranny. Documents flow between work and home by email and memory sticks. People bring personal wireless broadband connected laptops to work. Have you noticed how often you see people with two laptops at the airport security check-in? Some find it easier to have their own ‘convenience laptop’ (on the quiet) than do battle with corporate IT over what is, and is not, allowed.

Corporate IT has worked hard to achieve a monopoly, albeit a fragile one, over the provision of IT devices and applications.

This position, however, is being quietly eroded by IT solutions designed for the consumer market: smart phones; ultra-portable laptops; wireless broadband; social/business networking; wikis; web services; mash-ups and software-as-a-service applications. Whether the CIO likes it or not, there is now a continuum between formal corporate IT resources on the one hand, and quasi-personal IT resources on the other — with users tending towards a preference for the autonomy and flexibility of personal IT to fill unmet needs.

More dialogue and less shouting

It’s a tough balancing act for the CIO, control versus flexibility — but set to get tougher. Forces are at work that will escalate the intensity of emotions on both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, the need for corporate control is increasing:

  • Security threats continue to evolve rapidly, increasingly driven by organised, global, criminal organisations.
  • Regulatory requirements are more onerous, with executives facing personal legal liability for non-compliance.
  • Software environments are becoming more fragmented and dynamic — less driven by integrated single-vendor solutions and more by heterogeneous combinations of vendors and on-premise software and cloud-sourced web services. Break points and sources of risk are rising.
  • Organisations are becoming more reliant on IT infrastructure — a major IT failure or security breach can do serious damage to an organisation and to the careers of its executives.

On the other hand, users’ flexibility expectations are also rising:

  • Competitive advantage is increasingly driven by the capacity to sense market changes and respond quickly. It is important for knowledge workers to be able to fully engage in the global digital realm that they inhabit.
  • The pace of consumer, market-driven IT innovations are escalating well ahead of the enterprise IT market, encouraging workers to seek to apply these innovations at work.
  • The expectations, particularly of younger workers, to blend their personal and work lives in their use of technology are rising.
  • Individualism is increasing at the expense of a sense of group of community responsibility. The digital natives are also the 'me generation', and web 2.0 innovations have reinforced a 'use-without-costs-and-obligations' mentality.

A major clash of expectations and cultures is emerging: The organisation vs. the individual; corporate IT resources vs. personal IT resources; CIO vs. users.

Perhaps technology solutions like desktop virtualisation will help by offering more fine-grained provisioning and risk containment, than is afforded by one-size-fits-all desktop lock-down policies.

CIOs will, however, struggle to hold back the tide unless they engage in dialogue with users so that both sides understand the other’s drivers, constraints and motivations — and how far each is prepared to go to pursue their ‘rights’.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson is research director, public sector for Ovum in Melbourne.

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