In moving to a BigCo job you quickly notice how different life behind the firewall is when it comes to IT. You’re often more limited than empowered. The advances in consumer IT (things like Facebook and GMail) often have created better IT than corporations provide their employees. For well over a decade, corporate IT has been chasing the old mandate of risk management through hyper-control. In the meantime, consumer IT has shot past the old bulwark of the IT department when it comes to ease of use, functionality innovations, and the resulting leaps in productivity. Consumer IT has set a new baseline for what knowledge workers need to be most effective and most corporate IT has fallen well below that line.
Instead of delivering speed, functionality, and productivity, corporate IT seems dominated be concerns of control, cost, and compliance. The biggest fear, I can only surmise from IT policy, is loosing control of employee data, leaks, and viruses. In contrast, consumer IT (we don’t even call it “IT,” really) focused on keeping users engaged and coming back – like a casino, the longer the user is in consumer IT, the better the chances of getting more of their money. Consumer IT is forced to be friendly, effective, and pleasurable to use above all else.
Corporate IT, in contrast, seems more about risk management through control and mandates. We keep chasing this fault in employees: that they can’t manage their own device. In my unicorn future, when an employee starts, you give them a bunch of URLs and maybe an IMAP address and credentials, and that’s it. After this, the motto is “the job description said ‘computer literate,’ so fix it yourself or find a new job.”
My college Prabhakar likes to stop even sooner: employees will self-organize when it comes to IT. Each employee and group just chooses and runs their own IT (He has more faith in the Citizens than I.)
A Loosing Game
In short, corporate IT struggles to be as good as consumer IT because they worry about different things than consumer IT, namely, control. I’d suggest that this is a loosing game: increasingly computer literate employees will subvert corporate IT at every chance, even opting to avoid the corporate network all together to use the tools that get their job done most effectively. Control and risk management become an impossible dream at that point.
At the end of the day, corporate IT’s core mission should be one thing: multiplying the revenue potential per employee. There’s few better ways to do business-IT alignment than helping each employee create more revenue.
To do that, IT must start benchmarking itself against consumer IT: if the IT delivered isn’t at least as good as free (even low-cost) consumer offerings like GMail, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, and so on, IT must strive to re-calibrate its offerings and policy. I want corporate IT to be part of their company’s overall success by amplifying employee productivity. By re-calibrating on this mission and looking towards the consumer world for their new baseline, corporate IT could become smarter and more able to empower employees than the employees themselves.