When two tribes go to war …..

According to Bart Perkins in CIO.com: “IT has to take a stand on consumer technology.” He concludes: “It’s better to agree on a corporate policy, publicise it and start budgeting for the projected impact.” I can’t disagree with the latter point, but I also believe consumers will continue to drive this debate: as the new darlings of the tech vendors, they currently hold all the cards.

It wasn’t always this way. The article rightly points out that 10 years ago, most people used more advanced technology at work than at home, whereas now the opposite is true. Today, many employees have better kit at home, and the article notes many also expect their favourite devices to be supported at work. This is indeed the case, but the implications are far more wide-ranging than whether you can bring your favourite gadget to the office. They point to the need for fundamental changes in attitude and approach.

Consumer IT is driving new behaviours and setting new expectations about how we work, as well as the tools we use. There have been too many words/pages written about the role of Facebook, Twitter et al in the workplace, but it’s an undeniable fact that a new generation is arriving with new expectations of a ‘socially enabled’ way of working. To ban or block this behaviour is akin to limiting someone’s vocabulary – you will inevitably get a stilted outcome.

An equally undeniable fact is that the schism between this new consumer (or social) IT and corporate IT is just getting bigger. The focus of corporate IT is narrowing. It increasingly (but rightly) worries about data protection, information security, governance etc, as its world becomes ever more regulated. Social IT, by contrast, moves at a blistering pace, seemingly oblivious to these issues precisely because it is social IT. By definition it’s about sharing, collaborating and networking and thus it’s no surprise most of the publicised innovation is being driven in this area.

Corporate IT is dull and boring – right?? Who’d want to work for a corporate IT department? The networks are slow, the equipment is old, I can’t use my iPhone, it’s so restrictive, so yesterday… If we’re not careful that’s exactly where we’re headed – especially when it’s more attractive to make your money from ‘apps’ and ‘app stores’ rather than actually building applications.

The implications are clear. This debate is about talent not toys. If we don’t act soon we’ll be left with just two types of technology – the interesting (and growing) socially enabled, individually empowered version – where people want to work – and the stilted, highly regulated, narrowly focused version. Oh, and by the way, that’s the one that currently underpins our economy!

This post originally appeared in the  360 degree IT Blog on 14th April 2010
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