Motivated workers will blow past IT roadblocks

If you don't provide great apps for your users, they will simply blow past you. Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

There was a time when IT ruled all things technology. Today, that's changed and users have lots of options. Short of shutting down mobile access or building a blacklist of certain applications, it's difficult to stop users who are motivated to do it themselves, because they have ways around your rules.

The more obtuse that IT tends to be the more likely that is to happen. Consider the case of an information worker who works at a small college. For obvious reasons, she didn't choose to be identified, but she says she uses Dropbox because it makes it simple for her to get her work done.

Like many colleges, one of her tasks is to file grant requests. This often takes a collaborative effort and a quick turn-around. She says she used Dropbox on her own because the college IT department has been unresponsive, and Dropbox enabled her to do her job and file several grant applications on time.

When I asked what IT says about this, she responded, "Honestly, IT is so ignorant we just fly under their radar." In other words, she simply took control of the situation herself and found ways to get the work done without IT help.

When I was at the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit in May, one theme I heard over and over was that users are going to use tools they like to get their work done. If you want some more control over this process, you have to provide alternatives that are as good or better than what they can get on their own.

That holds true for the previously mentioned college grant writer: She told me nobody uses the sanctioned tool because it has limited storage and simply isn't as easy to use as Dropbox for sharing.

A key aspect of the consumerization trend is that enterprise users are spoiled (for lack of a better word) by the consumer experience. The first time I heard this idea was a speech by Crossing the Chasm author Geoffrey Moore in November 2010 at the annual ARMA conference. Moore talked about user frustration that we have these elegant tools at home, but when we get into work, we have to use these clunky enterprise software applications. And users quickly caught onto this obvious disconnect.

As mobile apps and the cloud developed, it shifted power from IT to the users, who no longer had to rely on IT for everything. Whether it was programmers looking for computing resources on Amazon or business users looking for software like Dropbox to share files, users quickly realized it was trivial to do it on their own --and some IT departments were caught flat-footed.

For many reasons, IT has never been a group that moves quickly. It tends to be cautious, rather than jumping on every bandwagon that comes along -- partly because it's expensive to jump on and off bandwagons -- but consumerization has turned out to be more than the buzzword of the day. It's the new reality. As Moore identified in 2010, consumerization was scratching an itch and when it combined with mobile and the cloud it proved to be a powerful mix.

Today, users have access to all these great tools and the fact is they can and often do find ways to get their work done. What has always surprised me about IT resistance to this is this: If users have found an efficient way to do their jobs, why would you fight that?

The only reason is because of legitimate IT security and compliance concerns. That's why it's more important than ever to identify those sanctioned apps as quickly as possible and unleash your company's employees to do their jobs. Because if you don't, you know they'll find a way to do it on their own.

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