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Users outwit IT when deploying consumer apps

A new report suggests that end users go through all kinds of hoops to avoid dealing with IT when it comes to deploying consumer applications and devices.

No doubt you're not as clueless as your organization's employees think you are, but the truth is, they're deliberately leaving IT out of the loop when deploying new applications at work.

IT has lost its steel grip over business users.
Joshua Holbrook
program managerYankee Group Research Inc.
In fact, end users are so confident in their ability (and authority) to bring whatever Web-based applications and consumer devices they want into the workplace, 31% of them claim to circumvent IT altogether, according to a recent survey from Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc. Only 13% said IT had complete control over their PCs.

"I was surprised but not shocked," said Joshua Holbrook, program manager at Yankee Group. "Most of the end users we talk to certainly demonstrate that they feel empowered and take advantage of that power, but I guess we didn't fully appreciate the extent to which they do."

In addition, 86% of respondents said they already use at least one consumer technology in the workplace. And despite the fact that 35% of companies have banned consumer technology, end users are finding creative ways to work around IT.

Lest you think this is just a matter of overconfident users bragging to score a few points with co-workers, you're not paying attention, Holbrook said.

"It's absolutely a reality," he said. "Take a look at the collaboration tools. Wikis and blogs -- those are being implemented by business units, not IT. And IT has no idea how many of those applications exist in the workplace environment. IT has lost its steel grip over business users."

All work, no play

Alas, herein lies the argument. These rogue users aren't just checking their MySpace pages or chatting with overseas friends via Skype. They're using those technologies to be more productive at work. For instance, 53.6% of respondents told Yankee Group that they would be more productive at work with access to the applications and technology they use at home. Forty-nine percent said their personal technology is more advanced than their workplace technology.

Holbrook said developers of consumer technology are more numerous and have more minds working on problems than the relatively smaller "coterie of corporate-class application companies."

"Frankly, enterprise technology just takes longer to develop," Holbrook said. "It has to have scalability. Consumer applications don't have to. It's no fault of IT and no fault of providers like IBM and Cisco. It's just the way things work. They have to have a learn-and-launch approach to new technology, whereas a lot of consumer application providers have a launch-and-learn approach. They put it out there and see how it goes. Google adopted that mantra wholeheartedly."

Security vs. productivity

Regardless, the unwieldy deployment of unsanctioned apps does create serious bandwidth and security issues for IT departments. It's a question CIOs have grappled with for years: Do you lock down your environment and ban users from trying these emerging consumer tools on the job, or do you embrace the technology and make sure your users are informed enough not to harm themselves or your infrastructure?

"I know many users, including myself, who need to use such technologies," said Nick Garbidakis, CIO and CTO of the American Bible Society in New York. "My main concern is security. We try to educate our users so that they know how to be careful and never send sensitive data over unapproved technologies. We also try to see which technologies make sense to deploy as corporate solutions or some of them just to disallow or block altogether. We try to communicate often, but there are always enough users who act surprised when caught."

Although Yankee Group's numbers suggest that locking down computers doesn't stop employees from using consumer technologies like instant messaging (IM) and social networking sites, Garbidakis, whose department serves 200 end users, said it's effective for the average user. However, he acknowledged that a PC lockdown won't solve everything.

"Even if you block certain things on the firewall, people can still go and use some Web sites," he said. "You have to go and talk to the users and say, 'Well don't do that.' If it's something really serious, we'll get human resources involved."

Garbidakis said his department has created a user guide for some consumer technologies, outlining, for instance, which IM platforms are acceptable and instructing them on how to set them up.

Holbrook said consumer technologies can be a drag on IT resources, even if end users are responsible about their use.

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"IT is an ecosystem where nothing works independently," Holbrook said. "Someone who mucks up a Skype download might disrupt his access to an enterprise application, and as a result IT is required to support that."

That's why Holbrook is advocating an approach similar to Garbidakis'. He said IT has to find a way to get control of consumer technology adoption. He said locking down PCs won't work. Ignoring consumer technology is just a mistake. And expecting IT to take on full responsibility for consumer technology is also doomed to failure because there's so much of it.

Instead, Holbrook is encouraging companies to use Web 2.0 technologies like wikis and blogs to create a "cooperative care" system, whereby IT provides some guidance but end users contribute their own experiences on how to implement and use these technologies.

"I wouldn't suggest this is the right approach for every IT organization," he said. "But it's the right approach for the more enlightened organizations who is trying to get a handle on a pervasive problem that is only growing."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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