Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Maybe Cloud Computing is "Better IT" (...and everybody is IT)

Sometimes it drifts into the land of cliches, but at the best companies you almost always hear the leaders say, "Everybody is in sales" (or customer-service). By this they mean that every single person in the company has some element of their job that affects an interaction with a customer. Whether you engineer the product, design the website, put the box in the mail or answer the customer-support line, almost every job in every company has at least a dotted line directly to the customer. Every one of those people affect the interaction with the customer and ultimately the level of sales for the company.

What you don't hear very often is, "Everybody works in IT". This is strange because most jobs interact with technology and most people use at least one (and often many) device that connects to the network and accesses IT applications. It would be easy to say that this analogy doesn't make sense, because "users" are the customers of IT services. They might complain that they don't like the service, but it's not "their job" to deliver the service.
I could accept that counter-argument back in the early 2000s, before people started using public services (Gmail, WebEx, YahooSports fantasy football, evite) to do things for their personal life that were "IT like". But now they have a problem and they setup the IT service to solve the problem. Granted they didn't wire up the networks or servers, didn't enable security authentication and firewalls, but they did act as their own personal IT person for that task. The DNA of consumer, public IT (cloud) services began creeping into everyday "users" and more and more people became educated on how this different way of doing IT could positively impact their life.

So now those same people, the "consumerized" users, start coming into work asking for "Better IT". In many cases, they are demanding Better IT because they have seen what is possible. And they aren't just asking to have their problem solved, they are recommending ways to do it. Everybody is slowing becoming IT.

So now what? We need to understand that this isn't the first time this has happened. Remember back when people started bringing in $50 home wireless access-point devices into the office so they could surf the Internet or access corporate networks away from their desks? We called these "rogue APs" and eventually IT realized that the users were trying to be more productive and enabled "Enterprise-wide wireless" services. The new trend is for business units to bypass IT applications and use public services (WebEx, GoToMeeting,, GoogleApps, Gmail, etc.). Recent surveys have shown this happening at almost 25% of all businesses. Once again, business users are trying to be more productive. They aren't rebelling against IT as much as they are starting to use the IT-DNA that was fostered from their consumer experiences. And they're starting to accept certain shortcomings (eg. lack of a single sign-on to all applications) because the trade-offs (eg. simple access via a browser or mobile device) seem simple and valuable.

So what does "formal IT" do to make sure they are still able to perform their job as caretakers of corporate information? And what does "informal IT" (eg. everybody) do to leverage their new experiences to make the overall company more productive? It's an interesting dilemma. If the results of those surveys are true and nearly 25% of businesses have started adopting this Everybody-IT-DNA in some manner, it feels like we're crossing the chasm from innovators to early adopters. It also feels like the time for a new type of conversation between business users and "formal IT", a conversation that isn't the one-directional model that has taken place in the past. It may be time to re-examine what is truly required to solve business problems, what is acceptable (and demanded) to make workers productive, and what old ways of thinking are no longer needed.

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