Last year I wrote about the newfound productivity of the prosumer, the consumer who is bringing technologies into the workplace in a DIY (do it yourself) fashion. If IT can’t or won’t get something done, users can simply check the Internet for the latest web-based service or software download to help them solve their problem. In this month’s CIO Magazine which landed on my desk somehow, the cover article is titled "Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them." The subtitle is "They’re smart, productive and using IT you didn’t provide. How to manage the modern user." I think we are at the very beginning stages now of IT’s recognition that the world is changing and like Jeff Nolan says the balance on the continuum of systems and people should move more towards a people-centric vision of technology. What do the people want and how do we provide them the ability to get things done while at the same time balancing our need to keep a safe and secure environment? Sometimes these issues are directly competing with one another. It is still quite early in the CIO’s recognition of a user-centric IT world but the fact that CIO magazine is focusing on this means that it is becoming more critical to its readers.
Over the next couple of years, it will be interesting to watch how the battle between top-down, conservative IT and bottom-up DIY employees gets resolved. IT wants control, security, and compliance while users just want to get things done. As the article advocates, the smart CIOs will figure out how to balance the needs of their users and the role of IT.
This will require CIOs to reexamine the way they relate to users and to come to terms with the fact that their IT department will no longer be the exclusive provider of technology within an organization. This, says Smith (Gartner analyst) is the only way to stay relevant and responsive. CIOs who ignore the benefits of consumer IT, who wage war against the shadow IT department, will be viewed as obstructionist, not to mention out of touch. And once that happens, they will be ignored and any semblance of control will fly out the window.
Whether or not CIOs get it, does not really concern me as the nature of sales for many of these DIY apps and services should be focused around the end user vs. centralized IT. Given this, the sale should be much different, less costly, and with much less friction. If a user wants to track his sales force productivity, they can go online and sign up for Salesforce.com or create their own through a SugarCRM download. There is no on-site installation as the web helps deliver the product efficiently. From a sales perspective, as these companies grow over time, much of their sales can be done over the telephone or through a WebX or GoToMeeting session with only the large accounts reserved for an expensive direct sales rep. Given this bottom-up, web-based model of selling and delivering software, it will be interesting to see how the incumbent vendors respond. For example will users adopt a collaboarion platform from IBM that IT has pushed down on them or would it be better for CIOs to figure out what their workers are using and standardize on that? Does this mean that the smarter incumbent software vendors look to buy startups that already have bottom-up traction versus building their technology from scratch? As I was writing this post, I just noticed that IBM just signed a deal to pipe Google gadgets through its Websphere portal.
"These sites are not just valuable to consumers. Businesses want the same content. Why would we keep these two universes separate?" said Larry Bowden, vice president of the IBM Lotus division for portals and Web services.
While Internet access, and thereby Google Gadgets, may be easily available to consumers, many businesses restrict access to the latest Web applications for security reasons, to make network management easier and to limit employee distractions.
By allowing Google Gadgets to work within its WebSphere Portal, IBM is making it easier for companies to give employees access to popular Web applications while keeping control over how they are used. Companies can decide which Google Gadgets they can see.
"The end user decides: We no longer need to go off and call a technician," Bowden said. "The power has been turned over to the people who know best. You know best."
It looks like IBM gets it and is trying to help its IT customers strike the delicate balance between control and giving users what they want. All I can say is that the intersection of the enterprise and the web-based platform will be an interesting space to watch over the next few years and it is clearly heating up.