Coming to Terms with New IT Realities in the Wake of CES

Michael Vizard
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As many IT executives watch the developments taking place at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, an uneasy feeling is starting to take hold in the pits of their stomachs.

When you peel back all the CES hype, there are several converging trends that are fundamentally changing the way IT departments will interact with end users in 2011. The first is the rise of 4G wireless networks, which will give users enough bandwidth to access rich applications on the Web, most likely written in HTML5, using relatively affordable tablet PCs and smartphones.

While it will still take a while longer for end users to acquire and master these new tools, Doug Neal, a research fellow at the Leading Edge Forum within the IT services company Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), says it's only a matter of time before end users take full control of their IT experience at work. That, says Neal, leaves IT executives with two basic choices: They can either fight a losing battle to maintain their status quo control over IT in what will probably result in the creation of all kinds of unsecured shadow IT networks, the existence of which will probably lead to security breaches and the eventual termination of the senior IT leadership. The other option, says Neal, is that IT leaders can move to embrace these new technologies in the hopes of proactively setting up the right policies and culture to make sure these tools get used responsibly. The latter path is by no means easy, but Neal says IT leaders have little choice in the matter at this point.

This is because even though IT will still maintain control over systems of record such as SAP applications on the server and Microsoft Office on the PC, end users will increasingly do work using smartphones and tablets to access HTML5 applications running on cloud computing services. Some of those applications will be commercial offerings, but just as many of them might be custom applications that end users "mashed up" on their own.

The end users will then take whatever they are working on and transfer the final product to the company's official applications of record. But for all intents and purposes, the real work of the company is increasingly going to be done on devices and services that employees will own or creatively expense back to the company.

Companies, of course, can create all the policies they want in an effort to stop what would amount to flagrant disregard of data governance and security policies. But policies have yet to stop people from using whatever tools they think will help them get their jobs done. After all, isn't that the same argument that led to the PC coming into the enterprise?

To cope with all this, Neal says that IT organizations are going to have to develop new social contracts with employees. Rather than trying to dictate what tools an employee can use, the company is going to have to stress responsibility for maintaining control over sensitive corporate data. That may put more onus on the employees in terms of making sure they don't lose corporate data. But Neal says that there's no going back now, especially after this week's CES event. The only practical thing to do, says Neal, is try to proactively deal with the inevitable in a way that creates the best possible result for both the employees and the company as a whole.

Most likely, that will take a lot of existing IT leaders out of their comfort zones, but the alternatives are much worse for all concerned.

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