The risks of not waiting for IT

Younger employees are going to be pushing employers to use Web 2.0 technologies on the job. And if their companies don’t start adopting them, younger workers will most likely just start using them on the sly.

So says an Information Week report last week.

I found this concise story especially interesting as this is a topic that always comes up when I speak with companies about social media. Indeed, it’s one of the pivotal points in any discussion I have with people when we’re considering changes in society as one of the drivers impacting behaviours in organizations.

The report includes some excellent viewpoints. This one, for instance:

“The upcoming generation is going to have a major impact on business. She will expect to have access to her tools in the workplace,” said Marthin De Beer, a senior VP with Cisco Systems. “It would be like someone from my generation not having access to e-mail and instant messaging. If they don’t get this stuff, they probably won’t be there for a long time.”

And this:

“People are bringing from home an expectation of how computing should be,” said Dennis Moore, a general manager with SAP […] “Ten or 20 years ago, people did not bring computing expectations to the office. Now people have better computer technologies at home. … People want to use their favorite technologies at work. They’re satisfying themselves and not waiting for IT.”

‘Not waiting for IT’ is an interesting point. In three meetings I’ve been part of with three different global organizations during the past two weeks in Europe and the USA, this was a real issue.

While I do understand the concerns many organizations’ IT departments have regarding enabling employees to do the things they want to do via the organization network (or, in too many cases, not enabling), it seems to me that some IT departments are stuck in the 1990s as far as understanding what one of the key roles is of organizational IT today – enabling employees to use the infrastructure to do their jobs, in ways the employees want to, not just the ways IT says they have to.

The Information Week report says that research from IDC shows that 45% of companies have workers blogging, 43% use RSS feeds, and 35% of companies have employees using wikis.

While the actual numbers may or may not be consistent everywhere, I’ve certainly seen clear signs that the number of employees using such social media tools in the workplace is increasing, and increasing rapidly.

I’ve also encountered companies where employees are not able to use RSS feeds or access blogs outside the corporate network because of IT policies preventing that. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

Imagine – IT blocks access to any domain that includes words like ‘blogger,’ ‘typepad,’ wordpress,’ etc. That works if a site you want uses one of those blog platforms. But you can use one and have a different domain, in which case domain-blocking like that won’t work. 

What I’ve also encountered is very little genuine dialog between IT and others in the organization to try and understand each side’s needs and concerns.

Is IT simply blinkered? Are communicators (and others) so focused on their own needs and wants that they disregard the fact that their IT colleagues have an important part to play in the changes going on?

Whatever the reason for the lack of meaningful discussions between these groups, here’s what’s happening according to Susan Feldman, VP of content technologies at IDC:

[…] the study also showed that IT managers and executives largely didn’t know any of this was going on. She told InformationWeek that with Web 2.0 technologies increasingly becoming part of people’s social lives, they will demand that it be part of their work lives, as well. And a lot of companies may have this new technology inside their firewalls that they simply don’t know about.

And this from Cisco’s De Beer:

“We’ll have to deal with the reality of people coming in and using tools that aren’t in the firewall. Web 2.0 empowers users beyond creating content. It’s about how we interact. For the next generation, it will be about mass collaboration, using social networking.”

Precisely. And risky where there is no clear agreement between the different parts of the organization on what to do that will enable and empower employees in a way that IT feels comfortable with and can support.

Conversations need to happen fast.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stephen Davies

    Hi Neville,

    I was talking to a girl at a North East PR agency last week using Facebook. Later that evening she text me to tell me that she won’t be able to communicate via FB as it’s been banned at work – meaning the IT guys won’t let anyone go on it while in the office.

    Two days later the same girl emailed me and asked if I could give her some information on why employee blogging was a bad thing as she was writing a piece for her boss to give to clients.

    It annoyed (and saddened) me at how shortsighted some people actually are.

    This is the way the world is turning, deal with it.

  2. Shel Holtz

    I helped a Fortune 100 company set up a blog on an external server because IT wouldn’t support it. As soon as IT found out, though, they said, they WOULD support it and brought it in-house. Sometimes the end run can serve as a wake-up call.

  3. neville

    Good examples of a) self-destructing attitude (from Stephen) and b) relatively smart attitude (from Shel).

    The prevalent one seems to be a), though. Collisions ahead.

  4. Dave Briggs

    Great post, Neville!

    I work in UK local government, and I imagine that Neville and other UK readers will know exactly how difficult it is to get movement into social media and Web 2.0 technology going in that sector!

    But we are trying, and the Communities of Practice is a social network based around knowledge management principles, including blogs, wikis, forums and file sharing. It works well and hopefully the benefits of this sort of initiative will see these techniques creeping into every part of local government life.

  5. neville

    Thanks for sharing that, Dave. It looks like a terrific initiative. Just browsing through the section listing all communities gives a good indicator that this is a resource many people in local government are actively using.

    Interesting that you mention how difficult it is to get movement into social media and Web 2.0 technology going in that sector. One of the things I’ve concluded from being part of the ‘Delivering The New PR’ series of conferences over the past 18 months is that some of the best examples of great practice with social media is coming from the public sector (the public sector generally, not specifically local government). I’ve heard about some really interesting and imaginative things being done.

    Good ideas and thinking are not the exclusivity of companies and others in the private sector!

  6. Sandy

    We evaluated these issues as a community and decided that if we could get “our” company in the drivers seat around social expression, they would be better prepared to give us permission and enable us to use social tools. Hence, the blogging guidelines and virtual worlds guidelines. The first is already public and the second soon will be public. I recommend going back to the management with that approach. It wasn’t easy but it was successful in a very large, conservative BLUE company.

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