IT and the stiffling of innovation

One of the frustrating aspects of working for a large company is that the internal service oriented departments, like IT, tend to be on a commoditization path. Under tremendous pressure to offer the same services for an ever shrinking budget, their perspective is to continuall reduce costs while supplying the same services. This is perfectly understandable, but one of the hidden costs of reducing costs is innovation that gets stiffled or killed because of a perceived indirect affect on costs.

There is new software being created every day to help all of us do our jobs better. From Nelson Email Organizer (ok, not that new) to Anagram, to lots of other apps there are many ways to improve one’s personal productivity. Most of them are available for free trial. The problem is that most of them involve having admin rights on the computer you want to install them on, and increasingly these rights are being taken away by IT departments bent on controlling costs. The money saved by using a new solution is nearly invisible. The money spent on dealing with support calls is extremely visible.

For example, there was a recent thread on a Linkedin group regarding trouble with the Linkedin Toolbar, and getting it installed. One of the people who responded was an IT guy who wrote:

One of the major challenges to IT departments everywhere is users installing non-standard (i.e. non-company approved) software. Most companies test software in regards to compatibility with the users existing software needs and the OS. This is to insure that the software that the user needs to do their job (at least in the company’s eyes) all works together. When the user adds un-approved (non-tested) software, then all bets are off.

If this was not complex enough, many companies have made changes to the OS to fit their needs better. For example, if you are using XP pro at work, it is NOT the same version as if you bought it at the store. This is another reason why some software will work fine at home but not at work.

The best method to get the tool bar into your companies software inventory, would be to make a business justification to your management and get them to approve it for use. That way it would go through the testing process to make sure it worked properly and worked with your other software and OS.

Folks, the perspective displayed in the reply is typical of IT departments everywhere, it would seem. “There is a time and place for spontinaity.” Everything is about reducing the trouble that’s caused when the customer (i.e. users) does something that causes the vendor (that would be IT) to change or adapt or react. Everything is about providing static perfection, 100% uptime, and no problems.

Think about that, and think about how you might run any other department given those same goals. Imagine a production department designed to provide 100% uptime. Imagine a sales department where no new sales techniques are allowed until they can be tested to assure complete customer compatability. Imagine an R&D department where nothing was allowed that had any problems. It’s rediculous.

Yet somehow we’ve been seduced by the idea that IT-supplied services must be far more reliable than anything else in the company, even if it means paying a very high price. Not only in money – getting the last few % of uptime is very expensive – but in lost opportunities for innovation.

When you deny users the chance to experiment and discover new tools, you deny your company innovation.

What’s worse is that in this scenario the one department you would assume is on the bleeding edge of these new solutions is very department that is focused elsewhere – on reducing the costs of running the tools they already have.

Computers have been around long enough. It’s time to make users more responsible for the health of their machines.

Personal computers have been around since 1980, and in mainstream business for a decade. In the beginning you couldn’t expect users to support themselves – nobody had a computer at home – because they just didn’t have the knowledge. Things have changed. Even I had computer classes in high school, and they are an integral part of today’s education. Even so all of us who’ve been using computers for the last decade have been learning along the way, right? When was the last time you saw a job posting that didn’t state computer skills as a requirement?

The solution is to transfer some of that responsibility to users. By doing this we free IT from the pain of dealing with those who experiment, and help IT get back on track to foster innovation.

Innovation doesn’t happen as the result of business justification.

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