In the short span of a decade, innovative electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, smart phones and internet engagement channels have made an indelible impact on everyday life, revolutionizing the means and speed in which people communicate, socialize and purchase goods and services. Combining the personal and business use of high-tech devices and applications, however, is a more recent phenomenon that’s blazing an irreversible trail. While this growing movement of versatile devices in the workplace provides flexibility and offers a wide range of options to increase employee productivity, it puts the modus operandi of back-office technology in peril, leaving IT departments precariously teetering on the edge of falling from hero to zero.
Culture vs. Technology: The Chicken and the Egg
While some argue that corporate cultures are shaped by the influence of developing technologies, I find merit in reports stating that technology evolves much more quickly than most robust cultures. In fact, technologies can be seen as a reflection of existing workplace cultures where each advancement is developed to meet a need that challenges teams. So, for example, a new cell phone app sidesteps corporate HR departments and publicly shares information on local venues to provide corporate team-building activities. Employees from numerous companies throughout the community find the app, share postings on it and select diverse activities to discuss with their management. What they select might depend upon the nature of a particular company's culture. For example, a sporting goods company may hire more active employees who seek out physically demanding activities while a high-tech company could find its employees prefer an indoor venue offering group problem-solving games.
However, an issue of security arises when each of these companies are inundated with emails and online sharing of a site that has not been vetted for data privacy. If IT were to attempt to circumvent the use of such developing technologies, additional challenges present themselves when recognizing that these are more than just blind technical developments, they are reflections of the needs and interests of the company population. Such black-hole circumvention will bring with it increased security at a price: Transgressing upon the developing technologies fuel the lifeblood of the company — the people working there.
The Driving Force Behind Advancing Technologies
The consumerization of IT, coupled with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), is more than just a trend. Steered by a younger, more mobile generation of employees—raised with connected devices and uninhibited by the notion of work/life balance—BYOD is the driving force behind the inspiration of advanced technologies with the potential to make the workplace more efficient and employees more productive. Yet, this same force that is driving technology in a direction of infinite possibilities is also at work in an opposite direction, significantly impacting IT administrators who feel pressured to protect their technology universe with black-hole policies where nothing is allowed to pass through nor escape.
From the outside, some may see IT departments as having a reputation for using “no” as the default response to newer technology or operational requests, whether to buy more time or as a genuine attempt to protect company policies and procedures. Although not an ideal or sustainable solution, I believe IT departments are at risk of becoming marginalized within enterprises as the speed of technology surpasses the speed of IT response far more rapidly. As today’s employees can walk into a store, buy a phone and access company email within minutes, bypassing IT completely, a “no” from IT often only results in an unproductive and unnecessary game of cat and mouse—inevitably ending in frustration and internal conflicts.
Contrary to popular belief, most departments do not intentionally oppose innovation, forcing employees to search for covert means to bypass IT and ultimately risk company security. However, the onus will invariably fall on IT administrators—whose survival depends on a willingness to adapt—to search for solutions that redirect policy-based collaboration and mitigate shadow IT, rather than identify new ways to block users from accessing sensitive information and connecting to company networks. One key aspect to this solution will involve ever-increasing communication between IT administrators, HR management and company leadership—through a constant re-balancing between the latest developments in technology and security in order to protect without isolating. Just as technology that supports the varied company cultures is an increasing force, the search and development of equally powerful security technology must step up to maintain the new equilibrium.
We must understand that IT teams tread a perilous line. What departments cannot ignore is the growing threat of cyber-attacks that can cost companies insurmountable losses. The case of Sony Pictures Entertainment had a chilling effect on departments around the world. Sony's IT department was pinpointed within hours of a major cyber-attack that leaked confidential information, leading to legal action against the company from employees, partners and customers alike. Whether the company let down its guard, or whether it fell behind in the battle to keep up with employees’ online culture seems moot at this point. The company is now entirely liable, and its IT department has been targeted for blame.
In their quest to provide unmatched technical expertise, IT departments are faced with unique challenges and important decisions, particularly in relation to their shifting roles within the organization, along with employee demands regarding accessibility and flexibility. Bridging the chasm will require administrators to not only provide a common goal and a starting point from which all players have an equal advantage, but also transform from a technology provider to a technology partner. In other words, IT must evolve from the traditional department of “no” to the supportive and collaborative department of “now.”
Harnessing the Power of the Cloud
Traditional IT provisioning is often a slow and manual process, while new cloud-based solutions are automated, allowing for increased flexibility, improved agility for administrators, and enhanced efficiency that helps support a mobile workforce. With cloud management, organizations can cost-effectively support and manage a wide range of endpoint systems, from desktops to virtual workspaces, while improving access to vital applications and databases. In addition, these advanced solutions:
As new cloud technologies emerge, collaboration between IT and the business is essential in balancing security with the interests of an entire workplace. To seize an expanded role while keeping pace with innovation, IT teams must take the lead and assume the position of driver and trusted advisor—allowing organizations to create competitive advantages by utilizing cloud solutions to solve complex technology challenges. While many enterprises already employ a hybrid of on- and off-premise solutions, how many end users have Dropbox or Box (News - Alert) and utilize Salesforce or Office 365? As this major shift occurs—with or without the consent of IT—organizations are bound to question if the IT department is an enabler or roadblock to innovation. By determining where and how IT departments can best support the enterprise and enhance the productivity of employees, they are sure to foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. Ultimately this protection of the organization’s most valuable assets will secure IT’s place and guide companies through the next wave of new technology.
Ashley Leonard is the president and CEO of Verismic Software—a global industry leader providing cloud-based IT management technology and green solutions—and a technology entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in enterprise software, sales, operational leadership and marketing, including nearly two decades as a successful senior corporate executive and providing critical leadership during high-growth stages of well-known technology industry pioneers. He founded Verismic in 2012, after successfully selling his former company, NetworkD (News - Alert)—an infrastructure management software organization. In his present role, Leonard manages U.S., Australian and European operations, defines corporate strategies, oversees sales and marketing, and guides product development. Leonard works tirelessly to establish Verismic as the leading provider of IT endpoint management solutions delivered from the cloud by building beneficial industry partnerships and creating a strong, innovation-driven culture within the Verismic workforce, all while delivering returns to Verismic’s investors. Verismic’s latest offering, Cloud Management Suite (CMS), is an agentless, cloud-based IT management software solution that is revolutionizing the way IT professionals engage in endpoint management.