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Forrester: CIOs must embrace, not fight, the employee 'digital self'

Forrester analyst Frank Gillette says CIOs must now reckon with an employee's entire 'digital self.'

The line between an individual's work identity and "personal cloud" is blurring -- and enterprise software is catching on to that. Microsoft's new Smart Search features in Windows 8.1, for example, will index both work and personal data on PCs, file servers and online; we expect other services to provide similar integration.  Forrester's surveys show that individuals are using cloud technologies to store their personal and work stuff -- files, contacts, photos, music, and videos -- in online services. In the U.S., 77% of online adults use one or more of these services, while in Europe 61% do so. As a result, there is now a new Internet gold rush to help customers and employees build their "digital self" and to help them access, manage and benefit from their digital information using any smartphone, tablet, PC or Web browser. Forrester believes this gold rush for the digital self will play out over the next six years.

Managing the "digital self" will become increasingly difficult for IT departments and may make many technology leaders uneasy. But, CIOs should be aware -- blocking services for the digital self will impair productivity and annoy workers, who will find ways around the restrictions as they continue to bring their own devices into the workplace.

Services for the digital self will dramatically expand the number of entities IT organizations must interoperate with.
Frank Gillettanalyst, Forrester Research

Services for the digital self will dramatically expand the number of entities IT organizations must interoperate with. Basically, this means that CIOs and their direct reports need a plan. Here are some guidelines for application developers, enterprise architects, marketing leaders, infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals and security and risk professionals -- plus a final bit of advice for CIOs.

  • App development professionals should add APIs for digital self. Services for the digital self will force corporate developers to link enterprise apps, databases and file servers to a wide range of new providers, including LinkedIn, Hightail, Facebook, and other social cloud services. As the number of integrations multiplies, look into self-service integration capabilities, such as If This Then That (, which lets anybody link disparate services for customized tasks and interactions.
  • Enterprise architects will have to master much larger data architectures. Enterprise architecture (EA) pros already strain to master the complex set of corporate data types and definitions, but the universe of data elements is about to get vastly more complex. EA should prepare for finance and HR to ask for links to the growing set of services for the digital self that workers use, such as linking the H&R Block tax service to the ADP payroll service. And marketing will want a variety of new data attributes about customers for effective personalized advertising. EAs will have to build the new data types and attributes of the individual's personal life in much more detail -- from hobbies and pets to food preferences -- that will become part of a dramatically expanded master data management (MDM) strategy for customers and employees.
  • Marketing leaders must build systems for individualized marketing. The large providers of services for the digital self will know an awful lot about their customers, with access to those individuals' email, files, schedules, finances, bills, fitness logs and so on. This will create the potential for targeted marketing campaigns far beyond what's in place today. Marketing leaders can no longer settle for mass messages, which will be seen as increasingly irrelevant. Instead, they should partner with these large providers for personalized messaging based on their customers' affinities.
  • I&O professionals will manage users, content, and context -- not devices. Help desk and client systems pros have traditionally focused on managing PCs and are now expanding that focus to mobile device management (MDM) and corporate app stores.The next shift on the horizon is away from managing devices entirely. Instead, infrastructure and operations pros must embrace the emerging Software-as-a-Service offerings that will help them manage how corporate resources integrate with the worker's digital self across content, apps and context. An early example of this is BMC's MyIT service, which offers the business employee a personalized digital dashboard of IT services and tracks interactions between the worker and the IT organization.

More tips from Forrester Research

  • SRM pros will move to security and policy by data object, not just person or network. To deal with a much greater variety of people and data within the company, security and risk management professionals will have to embrace the new zero trust model of security. Security systems must become more granular, managing access and permissions at the level of individual data items, not just the person's entire digital self. To prevent automated attacks that exploit the differences between personal and enterprise security models, security systems will have to monitor API interactions among services for the digital self.

Leading from the front on digital self

Embracing the emerging world of the digital self will challenge IT. As IT organizations grapple with managing this new universe of data, CIOs have to lead from the front on the digital self. To energize their teams for the hard work, CIOs must publicly endorse the business value of the digital self and demonstrate its use in their personal lives. Forrester advises that CIOs work with their teams to bring in users from the marketing department to talk about the business goals, host talks by early adopters of digital self-services for the workplace, and sit in on user focus groups about perceptions of the company's services for the digital self.

About the author:
Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., focuses on CIO issues.

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