IT and the Totally Autonomous User

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Remember the saying, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?" You couldn't throw a pet rock in the '70s without hitting a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with it.


I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing these at the office -- but with a twist. Today's version would substitute "business user" for "woman" and "IT department" for "man. " All of the major technology research companies, from Gartner to Forrester to IDC, say that the idea of a centralized and all-powerful IT department is beginning to look as dated as, well, a pet rock.


Said Forrester Research analyst Bobby Cameron in a November interview with IT Business Edge:

What we are really pushing in terms of language is "business technology" -- pervasive technology use that drives the business results. Now the pervasiveness is the real key. It's just an explosive expansion of who's messing with technology, both as end users as well as something around deploying it. The business impact, specifically, to talk to the point of end users being motivated more and more to take results delivery into their own hands. They may need some infrastructure and capability, but at the real point of differentiated value delivery, that's really where a lot of users are picking it up.

I've blogged several times about the trend of business users operating under IT's radar. It's not just individual users employing their favorite consumer technologies at the office. In some cases, entire departments use software-as-a-service applications with no input from IT.


Users play an increasingly influential role in enterprise software buying decisions, writes Anthony Deighton, senior VP of marketing for business intelligence provider QlikTech on SandHill.com, because they determine if and how a product will be used. Indeed, failure to obtain user buy-in is one of the quickest ways to kill a software implementation. Offering a user-friendly interface goes a long way toward obtaining this buy-in. Writes Deighton:

It is easy to see evidence of this divergence by looking at the market for email. Microsoft Outlook is typically purchased by the organization and given to the user. It is very complex and difficult to use. Compare that experience to using any of the personal email products -- Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or others. These applications enable access to email from any computer on the planet via a simple interface. They have fewer features but are far easier to use than Outlook.

Venture capitalist Kevin Efrusy goes so far as to suggest thatindividual workers will ultimately buy their own productivity applications. Efrusy's company, Accel Partners, just invested in Genius.com, a start-up using this model with its software tool that alerts salespeople when customers visit the company's Web site, notes Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Worthen. In essence, workers provide their own proof-of-concept, writes Worthen.


This isn't a completely new concept, of course. It's a variation on the idea of employees purchasing their own PCs, which IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle wrote about in May. Of course, there are possible snags to this model. IT Business Edge's Ken-Hardin pointed some of them out in an August blog.


One issue, writes Hardin, is expecting employees to pay for their own gear. Companies could surmount this obstacle by providing some kind of a stipend or reimbursement. An even bigger issue is workers who might be tempted to use their technology for work-inappropriate purposes. He writes:

... there's all kinds of stuff employees can do with offline personal communication devices (their mouths, for example) that companies need to be concerned about from a liability standpoint.

Point taken. That threat already exists, and many IT departments are struggling with it. With predictions like Efrusy's, it's not likely to get easier any time soon.