As a growing number of employees bring and use their own devices to work, managing technology and security has become a nightmare for many businesses. Power is being dispersed among a growing digitally literate workforce, who increasingly demand consumer-grade technology. It’s disrupting IT departments that have historically been driven by a command-and-control structure with rigid processes and rules.
Employee demand for consumer technologies accelerated with the release of mass-market smartphones like the iPhone in 2007. Today, technology innovation in the consumer market far outpaces that of the enterprise world, and the result is major disruption in how companies view their IT departments.
It’s important for technology leaders to accept this paradigm shift and redefine their roles. Rather than putting up barriers to prevent employees from using these technologies, CIOs and CTOs should become chief innovation officers and chief teaching officers. Technology abstinence policies should be replaced with innovation, education and guidance on how to safely use emerging technologies within the workplace.
Technology propagation was quite different ten or fifteen years ago. Most innovations took hold in the enterprise and then migrated into the consumer space -- take, for instance, email or mobile phones. Today’s turbulence in the corporate IT world is the result of rapidly shifting the direction in which this technology innovation moves.
Today a significant share of these tools gain large market shares in the consumer world before being brought into the enterprise. What’s most troubling for CIOs and CTOs is that the devices are coming into the organization undetected, unmonitored and unmanaged.
Unbeknownst to many companies, a full shadow IT network is growing from all of these consumer devices, with a large part of daily operations or communications being handled by them. Line-of-business managers are now empowered to push their own technology initiatives, without requiring the support of centralized, bureaucratic IT departments. This is excellent for business teams, terrible for technology departments and potentially dangerous for companies.
Power is being stripped from IT departments and they’re losing control of their company technology empires. Technology is being democratized and decisions are being decentralized. Yet, as with any systemic transfer of power, your technology world can quickly descend into chaos if business and technology leadership don’t collaborate to focus on stabilizing the new world order with calculated strategic decisions.
A good CIO knows that technology’s singular purpose is to drive the operational efficiency of the company and enable the successful execution of business strategy. A good CEO sees technology as a strategic asset, where tactical decisions can have unintended and amplified long-term implications.
A laissez-faire approach to consumer technology can lead to a future environment with countless ad hoc systems that have little to no integration or data portability. This only offers short-term results, without addressing larger systemic consequences. Corporate technology is an ecosystem of interrelated components, and the ad hoc removal or introduction of new tools often destabilizes the enterprise architecture.
The CIO of the past would prevent this outcome by maintaining an iron grip on all systems. With full decentralization, the way to exercise control is through education and influence. Removing autocratic control from central technology leaders transforms their roles into facilitators or consultants. In fact, it increases the importance of a qualified CIO who has a holistic technology vision.
Without direct control, it’s critical for technology leaders to work with business stakeholders to adopt emerging technologies that don’t destabilize the technology ecosystem. As central technology control continues to erode, the importance of proper strategic guidance and education will only continue to grow. With or without direction, company innovators will continue to seek out new technologies.
Good employees operate within the parameters defined by the company, using the tools they’re provided. Great employees focus on the end result and don’t see rules as barriers. They will seek out any technology, approved or not, to perform their jobs. And, this is what we’re seeing with the consumerization of the enterprise. Dropbox, iPhones and Evernote are examples of technologies often banned by companies who fear not being able to control them. Yet, these tools can dramatically increase the productivity of employees.
In the digital economy, technology that enhances your ability to work will give you a competitive advantage. Employees who adopt emerging technologies and push boundaries to improve efficiency should be celebrated, not reprimanded. Technology leaders concerned about losing control of company systems or their job security need to get onboard and acknowledge that this is the new world order.
The technology pendulum will only swing further in the direction of consumerization. It’s a paradigm shift that significantly alters roles for company technology leaders, and it increases the importance for businesses to identify strategic and visionary CIOs. We should redefine IT as innovating together, because the relationship that a company has with its IT department will now require a higher degree of collaboration to make sure the right technologies are being used by the right people.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Tom Cochran currently works at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs. Prior to that, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, and served as the Director of New Media Technologies forThe White House.