Freedom of choice

CIOs are facing a torrent of users bringing their own gear to the office. But the enlightened manager needn't fight the inevitable.

If the dam hasn't already burst then it's only a matter of time. CIOs are going to lose the battle to maintain total control of their environments as users start to bring personal devices to the office and use them for work.

Often, businesses try to counter the breaches by writing policies that ban users from using their own devices at work. But that only goes so far. For example, if a staff member is issued a mobile phone for business use, they can potentially bring a personal phone so that they are not using the company's equipment for private calls. But staff are even pushing things further by bringing in tools such as iPads as a replacement for notepads and to reduce the amount of paper that's printed for meetings and tossed away later.

In case you'd missed it, I'm the new editor of SearchCIO. But I'm also the manager of an IT department and I'm facing this very issue. And like many CIOs, I'm faced with the task of managing rising costs. While the increasing pressure from my customers is on to allow greater personal choice with computing devices, I'm encountering a management culture from my board.

For the last couple of decades, IT departments have been focussed on Standard Operating Environments. Essentially, the business has been driven by the IT department to reduce choice for users with the promise of greater reliability, reduced costs improved productivity. But now, a new generation of people are entering the workforce. Born in the late 80s and early 90s, new staff have been raised and educated with IT embedded into everyday life.

These new workers have been raised with choice. Although their primary and high schools might have used standardized hardware, once they reached university, they would have chosen their own PC and mobile phone. Chances are that they will have used a smartphone for that time. When they reach the workforce, they don't understand why they can't use the tools that helped them succeed through school and start their career.

Over the last six months since I commenced my current engagement, I've been working with the rest of the management team and other key stakeholders to build a vision of what the business will be doing, what the user community wants and expects and how all of that will be managed. For the last few years, the focus has been on building more robust and flexible infrastructure, standardisation and reliability. Now, the vision is to take that investment and get the most we can out of it.

How am I going to achieve that vision?

1. Get the basics right.

There's no way I can sell a vision and get engagement without the basics being right. For the first six months of this engagement, my focus has been getting existing services to a level of reliability that gives the business confidence that my team will be able to deliver change successfully. That's been achieved and continuously improved upon by improving infrastructure reliability and delivering on a couple of key projects that were on the schedule when I arrived and took over from my predecessor. The key project there was deployment of Windows 7 to about 700 client devices while replacing about 40% of the computer fleet and implementing a new systems management environment leveraging tools from the Microsoft Systems Center suite.

2. Establish an ongoing dialog with key stakeholders

I spend most of my time on stakeholder management. As the leader of the second largest cost centre (behind payroll) I have established regular communication channels, both formal and informal, with individuals in the management team (with a focus on the CEO and CFO functions), board members and other important influencers in the business.

I also set aside time each week to speak informally with users and find out what is causing them pain, noting the issues and addressing them. Most of my team are surprised to hear about problems that are causing grief for staff that aren't being reported to the help desk.

3. Ask people about what they actually do in their jobs and what tools they are using

Although my IT environment is quite standardised and controlled, individuals have found and use their own, novel ways of solving everyday issues and challenges. But they don't always share those solutions with colleagues. By seeing how those individual solutions work, I'm able to build a better picture of what's really needed.

4. Invest in my staff

A more diverse technical environment is more challenging to manage. There's little doubt of that. However, it makes little sense compromise individual productivity because the IT department can't deal with it. Now that my team and I are getting the basics right, we're able to invest in developing new skills.

Although my training budget is limited (isn't everyone's?) there are lots of free seminars, webinars, vendor information sessions and other opportunities for my team. As my team is small, I have to manage the operational needs of the business with the professional development needs of my team. However, it's possible to allow each person a day each month for professional development activities.

5. Resistance in futile

The BYOC trend will not go away. So it's important that I build a technical environment and team that is ready to support a more diverse operating environment. While that will require a lot of education for both IT and the rest of the business, I'm constantly looking for opportunities to teach the business the IT skills they need to become more self-sufficient so that they can confidently use a wider variety of tools. It is inevitable that my neat Windows 7 environment will be muddied by Macs in creative production areas and tablet devices (with Android, WebOS and iOS all potentially in the mix) for personal productivity.

If I resist diversity I risk being bypassed by users and becoming an impediment to the business. To paraphrase a recent study by IDC, I can either run the "Department of Yes" or the "Department of No"

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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