Consumer IT and the Executive Double Standard

Ann All

It's no secret there are two levels of technical support at most companies: the super-solicitous one offered to executives and the one offered to everyone else. At my last job, the company's single IT guy was rarely available when my 6-year-old laptop shut down and wouldn't restart (a not-uncommon occurrence), but he'd drop everything to make a house call and troubleshoot a networking issue at our CEO's home. (Of course, nothing but an exorcist could really help my on-its-last-legs laptop.)


I wrote about this two-tiered tech support back in 2007, when I interviewed a Unisys executive who told me his company was increasingly asked to provide support services geared to an employee's role at a company. Workers who produced more revenue and/or were highly engaged with customers got a higher level of support than their colleagues. I linked to an article that described the dedicated IT specialists offered as executive perks at companies like Walt Disney Co., Whirlpool, Time Warner and Eastman-Kodak. Not surprisingly, such special treatment can create ill will and also sometimes leads employees to seek tech support through unofficial channels -- such as the guy in the next cubicle.


There's a similar double standard when it comes to iPhones and other mobile devices. Writing on FierceMobileIT, Yankee Group VP Eugene Signorini notes that many consumer-oriented technologies first make their way into the enterprise in the hands of senior executives. The IT staff, not wanting to tell the execs no, go ahead and support their devices. That's how the BlackBerry entered workplaces, though it didn't go mainstream until smart Research in Motion created the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which allowed IT to provide enterprise-class support for the popular devices.


And it's not just iPhones. A recent survey found executives -- classified by Yankee Group as VP level or above -- are far more likely than non-executives to use mobile e-mail (35 percent vs. 24 percent), mobile broadband on laptops (32 percent vs. 2 percent) and smartphone applications (20 percent vs. 9 percent) than non-executives. Execs also are heavier users of consumer tools for business purposes, such as consumer e-mail (69 percent vs. 53 percent) and consumer instant messaging (62 percent vs. 48 percent).


There's an especially telling quote in a Forbes story about the survey,, from Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagle Green:

[Executives] will actually circumvent their companies' own policies to try to stay productive.

Wouldn't it be nice if executives focused less on circumvention and more on working with IT to produce common-sense policies that balance employee choice with security and other enterprise concerns? Flexibility could become the rule rather than the (executive) exception. While some standardization is necessary to achieve cost efficiency, smart companies should find ways to support tools that help employees do their jobs better.

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