IT can't control information flow forever


I recently responded to a problem posted on one of my social networks about sharing files between home and work. I suggested the person use Dropbox. I was a bit shocked to learn that the person's IT department had blocked Dropbox. Apparently fear of sharing trumped employee convenience, but is that fear warranted and is it time for CIOs to simply give up control? When I was at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston recently, many speakers suggested it was time to give up control because there are simply too many ways to work around whatever road blocks the company tries to throw in front of employees.

Like sand through your fingers

Even as IT tries to control the enterprise computing environment, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. The whole nature of Web 2.0 and its enterprise counterpart, Enterprise 2.0 is it puts computing tasks that once required the help of highly technical staff (like IT) into the hands of non-technical (or not very technical) end users. As users feel this growing independence they chafe at traditional controls, especially when it gets in the way of them getting their work done. My example in my opening, the guy who couldn't access Dropbox at work, was a case in point.

John Newton, co-founder and CTO at Alfresco, finds the evolution of enterprise control interesting. "The conversation has moved from, 'you have to control everything' to 'you ought to control everything' to 'you can't control anything because people will find work-arounds.'"

Pick your battles

Some companies have decided to ban external social networking tools because they are afraid of liability or (more likely) that employees are simply "wasting time" on Facebook. Companies that are doing this, are failing to get involved with marketing conversation that's going on, on Facebook and Twitter. You can hear exactly what your customers think about you. Just last week, I had (and continue to have) problems with my Comcast Internet connection. I complained about my customer service experience on Twitter and heard directly from @comcastcares, a group inside Comcast that monitors Twitter chatter to get in front of issues like mine.

Lots of companies are taking this proactive kind of customer service approach. It doesn't mean that everyone needs access to these tools, but it doesn't make sense to unilaterally cut them off either without thinking through the reasons first. And the fact is if you block Facebook on your network, users can simply pull out their smart phones and get to it that way. It's hard to control the computing world, when people have direct access outside of your control in their pockets and purses.

Analyze your thinking

For some CIOs and IT staff it's simply a gut reaction. If it's on the open web, it must be bad and we must control it, but cloud computing services like Dropbox, Facebook and so many others are not inherently bad. Most executives probably won't give up total control for some time to come, but it may be time to think about why you want that control, and if it's in the best interest of the way that your employees share and collaborate today, whether it's in-house or interacting with customers, partners and suppliers. 

If after thinking it through, you have a legitimate gripe, then set a reasonable policy. Simply trying to control it all is likely an exercise in futility in today's open computing environment. You have to figure out those areas that truly matter most because of regulation, business interest or other reasonable policy drivers. If it doesn't meet that criteria, you might want to just let it go, and control what makes the most sense for your organization and how you do business today. - Ron