Technology, IT Infrastructure

Empowered workers: IT should embrace them

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What does IT mean to you? Is it pure information technology or a moniker for the organization, which heretofore has parceled out information technology?

It’s an important distinction and one I need to bear in mind each time I sit down to write. That’s because I refer to IT as transforming business.

Indeed, information technology is transforming businesses, but not all IT organizations are.

IT the organization isn’t the sole arbiter anymore of who gets the information technology they need to do their jobs. In many cases, IT the organization is being reluctantly dragged into the era of empowerment where workers get information technology on their own.  

Thanks to cheap and powerful smart phones, cloud services and terabyte drives, a salesman, for instance, can not only manage his contacts, contracts, calendar, spreadsheets and presentations, but can easily collaborate in the cloud with customers and colleagues. He may need IT the org to access the corporate data center, but that outfit’s hold on the salesman’s technology is loosening.   

Forrester Research just did a report entitled “BT 2020: IT’s Future in the Empowered Era,” which examines technology self-sufficiency and offers advice about how IT the organization can adjust and even thrive (BT stands for business technology).

Some 39% of millennials (workers under 30) have their own smart phones “regardless of whether IT the organization supports it.” Another 22% have a web service they found on their own that helps them get their jobs done. And 34% say the technology they have at home is better than the technology at work. Millennials will comprise almost half the workforce by 2020.

It’s a constant tug of war: ever-cost conscious IT tends to centralizes information technology while empowered and workers tear at that fabric. By 2020, IT the organization will still be the overseer of centralized data assets, but user land will have been largely lost.   

You get the picture.

Forrester recommends several courses of action CIOs can take today and I added my comments. Here’s a sampling:

-- Evaluate what 2020 looks like to your business and IT the organization.

-- Embrace the “empowered business user.” If you can’t fight them and you can’t, join them, as the ages-old maxim goes. Empowered workers have already won (perhaps more than any one person, Steve Jobs is responsible for empowering workers. Cell phones planted the seeds).

-- Let go of the notion that you have to control all technology. If you think you do, you almost certainly don't.

-- Put forth opportunities not constraints (IT the organization is famous for the latter).

IT the organization carries negative connotations. “You have to go IT for that,” says your boss. GROAN.

I’m not sure if BT is broad enough to replace IT as the de rigueur and future term, but clearly the latter needs to lose the association with the organization.

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Eric Brown 1 Point | Wed, 04/13/2011 - 17:46

Excellent Stuff John.

I've been arguing for this for quite some time.  Shadow IT is created by the empowered user trying to get things done.

Let's hope more organizations take heed and listen to advice like this.

Eric Brown 1 Point | Wed, 04/13/2011 - 17:50

I hit submit before I wanted to.

The future of IT is something that currently hangs in the balance today.  If we in IT continue to manage the 'process' and 'environment' rather than the 'experience', the business will continue to find ways to become more empowered. 

Michael Hugos 8 Points | Sat, 03/05/2011 - 01:04

Hi John,

This is well said. Two years ago the CEO of Intel said that they now sell more silicone to consumer IT and social media companies than they do to corporate IT groups. For the first 50 years of computing the driving force for the technology was corporate and government IT. Now the technology is driven by consumer IT; the horse is out of the barn; the genie is out of the bottle, and it's a whole new world that is hard to figure out but happening none the less.

Instead of just saying NO and banning use of iPhones or Facebook etc, corporate IT groups can become heros by finding ways to connect in-house systems with mobile devices and using social media apps to create new user interfaces for legacy systems. There is a bunch of new opportunities for IT groups to become the enterprise architects and developers of new hybrid systems that connect their internal systems like ERP, CRM, Customer Service etc with the great wide world where their customers and suppliers live.

Best regards,

Michael Hugos