The other day I was listening to the only podcast I listen to, Total Picture Radio. Peter was interviewing Bryan Eisenberg from Future Now and what really caught my ear was his use of the phrase “…their business suppression unit was keeping them from making the website run the way it should…” The guy went on for a bit and then used the phrase again. Peter interrupted him with “…business suppression unit?” and the guy said “Yeah, their IT department.” He was making the point that a lot of bad web marketing is the result of IT department influence.
IT department = Business Suppression Unit
It’s very sad, and probably offensive to many IT people, but whether by accident or by design, it’s often true.
Dr. Joe Webb, a well-known guy in printing circles, is an odd bird because he writes a blog in an industry that is a bit backward where the web is concerned. Not only that, he’s a Linux user as well. Yesterday we were trading a few emails on Linux, the future of Microsoft and Office, and the future of productivity software in general. I’d sent him a link to my renegade IT post, and he wrote something very interesting in a comment he left:
for quite a few years now, small businesses and microbusinesses have all kinds of cool tools that big company workers do not. skype, instant messaging, ftp sites like yousendit.com are godsends to small business
people but strike fear in the hearts of IT managers. this is one reason why graphic arts vendors and printers themselves are don’t understand what new media are and what they can do… they’re not allowed to use them in their own companies. unless they have a teenager at home, they have no inkling of how the industry is being undermined.
As the days get nearer toward companies being more virtual than actual, how will these businesses be affected?
A recurring theme on TPR is how different Gen Y’ers are from Boomers and Gen X’ers. They multitask more, they treat information differently as well as relationships, and they have a lot of norm-busting views on the workplace and how work gets done. Gen Y’ers are slowly taking over the workplace, and it’s clear so far that they’re going to be used to a lot more access and power at their fingertips than many IT departments allow.
Another recurring theme is that between the pool of retiring Boomers being so much larger than subsequent generations, there’s going to be a real labor crunch.
If you put this all together it means that IT departments are going to be facing a wave of employees who just aren’t going to be satisfied with the current levels of access and support. They’re going to want more access, more performance, and a greater ability to innovate autonomously.
As all this is happening, the run-of-the-mill value that IT is used to supplying, like user support, file storage, office apps, email, and calendar are being more and more easily outsourced. If new value isn’t being created, what kind of alternative to outsourcing will in-house IT be?
So, if you’re an IT guy and you’re wondering how to deal with this coming conflict, what to do? Here are some ideas:
- Find and embrace the power users and early adopters in your company. They can and will (may already be) go around you to find solutions, but they can be your most powerful supporters because they can help bridge technology and business.
- Create sandboxes people can play in. Machines here and there that have unfettered access to the internet, that people can use to try things out and find new solutions. These machines can be isolated to reduce the risk to the network at large.
- Talk to your users and find out what they want – what have they seen that they could really use.
- Create an internal web hosting service, just like folks can buy on the net, but for internal use only.
- Remember that what created IT departments in the first place was the need to exploit new technology to improve the business. Have you brought anything new to the table recently? I’m not talking about stuff that protects users or reduces costs or increases control, I’m talking about new value for your customer. You need to be looking for this stuff and trying it out.
- Consider allowing people to use software like XAMPP to try out applications like blogs, wikis, and other web-based applications. These apps are nice because they’re free, inherently multiuser, and usually enterprise or near enterprise class.
- Last but not least, review your policies for rules that are the result of a few abusers. Maybe you had a user who spent all day instant messaging his girlfriend, but does that really merit an enterprise-wide ban? Consider different policies for different classes of users.
Every day people are inventing cool new apps that can make life easier, bringing with them new fears and challenges for those who being IT to the desktop. We can either embrace and leverage this innovation, or keep it at bay and deal with the consequences.
 Turns out I mis-remembered the quote – he said “business prevention units…”