The Business Suppression Unit

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[1] 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.

[1] Turns out I mis-remembered the quote – he said “business prevention units…”

7 thoughts on “The Business Suppression Unit

  1. excellent post… as long as execs think this computer stuff is a waste of time and not “R&D for basic activities” things won’t change. this is the kind of stuff that makes vistaprint happen… a company designed by systems analysts selling things common wisdom deemed nuisance work. our industry’s feet are incredibly bloody and we still have bullets left.

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  2. Wow, as an IT person (both as a tech guy and a manager) I don’t even know where to start. Your points are all extremely valid and I guarantee that most or even all IT people agree with you. The IT people are also some of the biggest violators of the policy. Remember, they love all the new tech gadgets and probably have them at home already.

    The problem starts with senior management. IT is no longer cutting edge and forget about bleeding edge, that is considered a total waste of time and money.

    Instead, IT has become a utility. Something that is reluctantly paid for, but only as little as possible to allow the job to be done and revenue to increase. Every project, every gadget, every accessory is all boiled down to what kind of ROI can we expect.

    I’m not saying that a company can just throw caution to the wind. But they do need to start working their way back out there on the edge. That list is a good place to start, but I would challenge the IT management to work on that list and not the tech people. I would also want the managers to add one more thing to that list; listen to the people that work for you! Find out from them what’s new, what’s hot and what would make life better for the end user.

    Then find some courage and go push the ideas to your senior management!

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  3. If a business owner shows interest in blogging, asks for more info and then tells me they have referred it to their IT dept, I close the file. No contest.

    OTOH, great suggestions for the IT people to build alliances, provide tools for testing etc. My suggestion is that it is also a good idea for the others to build alliances with the IT people. As a non-technical person previously in a corporate setting I was basically curious and gregarious enough to ask plenty of “dumb questions” and as a result could sometimes achieve extra results by getting the IT people to help me build computerised demos for new ideas that I couldn’t get attended to with paper presentations.

    It shouldn’t he all one way.

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  4. Great post!
    AS SOMEONE WHO FOLLOWS THE ISSUE OF GENERATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE, I FOUND THE FRAMING INTERESTING AND REFRESHING. MANY CONSULTANTS AND COMMENTATORS TALK ABOUT “GENERATIONAL CONFLICT” WITH THE LOCUS OF ANALYSIS ON “GENERATIONAL PERSONALITIES”. YOUR ANALYSIS SPEAKS TO THE STRUCTURAL AND SYSTEMS ISSUES, POINTING OUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE CONSCIOUSNESS AND SKILLS OF YOUNG WORKERS AND THE ORGANIZATIONAL ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE NEED TO CONTROL THE FLOW AND CONSTRUCTION OF INFORMATION INSIDE ORGANZATIONS.
    IT IS ALOS AN INSIGHT THAT ONLY YOUNG WORKERS COULD SEE.

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