User Determined Computing

by jeremy on January 10, 2008

I’m not sure it’s a new phenomenon, but Accenture reckons it is: employees are more tech savvy than the companies they work for and are demanding their workplace catches up.

A new study by Accenture to be released next week (no link available yet; based on a PR pitch that mentions no embargo) will say that until recently all the most advancted networks and communication devices were at the office. Now they’re at home. The company calls it “user-determined computing”:

Today, home technology has outpaced enterprise technology, leaving employees frustrated by the inadequacy of the technology they use at work.  As a result, employees are demanding more because of their ever-increasing familiarity and comfort level with technology. It’s an emerging phenomenon Accenture has called “user-determined computing.”

The global study of more than 300 Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will argue that “executive and technology leaders are undertaking superficial improvements in their information technology systems rather than making fundamental changes to meet the growing demands of users.” The research will show that the high performing companies are those that are deploying the new technologies.

So far so good (and until we see the report that’s all we’ve got for detail.) I’d argue that this disconnect has existed for years and only been exacerbated by the rise of Web 2.0. But I’m a little less sure of Accenture’s argument when it says that it has launched an internal initiative of its own — what it’s rather lamely calling “Collaboration 2.0″, which involves

rolling out enhanced search capabilities, high-definition and desktop video conferencing solutions, unified messaging, and people pages (similar to personal pages on social networking sites).

A good enough start, I guess, but hardly an office revolution. And I think the term “user-determined” is misleading; it sounds as if users actually have a say in what computers, communications and software they use. Even Accenture’s own Collaboration 2.0 doesn’t sound as if that’s the case. “User-influenced”, maybe.

What do I think? I believe that most companies’ internal software systems need a major more radical overhaul — of five media companies I have had dealings with recently, one still uses the same editing software it had in place more than 10 years ago, another uses a system that has no major changes to its interface since the early 1990s, and another uses DOS WordStar.

I believe that companies need to be more flexible about how/where/when their workers work. The when and where is being addressed with telecommuting and flexible hours. But I also think that workers should be free to use everything that Web 2.0 has to offer — collaboration tools like stuff from 37Signals, Google Apps, Skype, their own hardware, whatever it takes. I know there are security and legal issues involved, but, let’s face it, what worker doesn’t use their own instant messaging program, log into Gmail on their office computer and other “illegal” moves inside the enterprise?

It’s time to let the worker work as s/he wants. If Accenture has spotted anything, it’s probably that the most productive workers are independent workers — those who set up their own systems so they’re not dependent on and held back by their employer. If that’s true, then the logical conclusion is that those employees are probably not employees anymore, but have struck out on their own either as consultants, freelancers or hitched their wagons to smaller, leaner and more flexible startups.

PS I wasn’t hugely impressed with Accenture’s own website, which didn’t comply with the most basic standards of Web 2.0. For one thing, it’s Flash-based, with no options for a quicker loading, HTML version. And the Flash doesn’t load quickly:

image

Secondly, a pop-up window greets you on your immediate arrival requesting your participation in a survey:

image

Not a good start.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 11, 2008 at 10:24 am

>workers should be free to use everything that Web 2.0 has to offer — collaboration tools like stuff from 37Signals, Google Apps, Skype, their own hardware, whatever it takes.< As a security professional working in the financial sector, I can tell you right now: Wrong Answer.

>I know there are security and legal issues involved< Obviously you have no clue what those issues really involve, or you would not be making such wildly irresponsible statements.

>but, let’s face it, what worker doesn’t use their own instant messaging program, log into Gmail on their office computer and other “illegal” moves inside the enterprise?<

And from where I am at, if such workers are caught, they will be fired. End of episode.

Welcome to SOX, GBL, HIPAA. Time to crawl out from under your rock.

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Jeremy Wagstaff January 11, 2008 at 11:29 am

Interesting comment from the anonymous commenter above, if you can get past their aggressive attitude and belief that the United States is the only country on the planet. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about SOX etc, and I’m sure there are serious constraints to the use of the tools I mention. But a cursory look down my buddy list indicates that somehow there’s a whole bunch of people in every industry (including the financial sector) who are online through an outside messaging system.

Of course they might be using their own computers in the office, connected somehow to the Internet independently (I used to use the phone line, but nowadays you could just as easily do it via an HSPDA modem.)

I don’t deny that SOX etc are an issue. And security professionals would much rather believe they’ve got the enterprise locked down tight. But I wonder whether they know what’s really going on among their employees.

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Same anonymous commenter January 12, 2008 at 7:59 am

Sorry to sound aggressive (not sure where the only country on the planet remark came from), but in SOME industry sectors – at least in the U.S. – that is the painful reality. If a compromise happens, things roll downhill rather quickly. And people can wind up losing their jobs or even going to jail.

I’d just as soon not have to worry about attempting to lock things down tight (it really isn’t feasible anyway). The vast majority of users are responsible with technology if they are made well aware of any associated risks and can obtain training on proper use. They also are open to the realization that some technologies are not a very good idea, period. I’ve had more than a few instances where someone not only dropped trying to use ->insert cheesy malware laden warez here< - at work, they promptly uninstalled it on their home computer when they got a good full disclosure about it.

But until managements across the board realize they need to turn to human solutions for human problems, they will continue to demand technological solutions, and blockades, to deal with the minority who do wreak havoc. This in turn puts IT in a position of having to regulate rather than educate, fueling further the “Us vs. Them” mentality.

Which spoils the party for everyone. :-(

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Bob Williams January 12, 2008 at 9:06 am

I’m with Anonymous, I work in the IT field, and yes, we lock them PCs down, so “independent workers” can’t even put the messenger on there, unless its the Intracompany version, in which case, you’ll just be talking to someone in the Corporate world, yeah, it’s helpful in productivity and there fore, allowed.

This isn’t a USA thing, as though I’m in the US, I know people all over the world, thanks to this ‘Glorious Web XY109.3(2.0?? Wha? Crap, I think you’re behind in the times, ~grin~ Just kidding, we’re on version 110. Keep up damnit!!!! :)) but a world thing in the IT field. Sorry, if we let everything through, not only are there the things about the regs but alas, there’s viruses and spyware and plain old nasties that can just ruin a computer. Contrary to popular belief of a lot of writers and folks I’ve been reading lately, those machines of wonderous technological, that make our lives more wonderful than can ever be imagined, are not owned by the worker, but by the company that gives the worker a check, to work on said machine, and I really don’t like having added chaos that was caused by adding some proggy such as Weatherbug or even a simple little gadget like Google Toolbar, which I have seen with my own bright eyes cause some major problems in interaction between my company’s applications.

This ‘independence’ could lead to a wonderous burst in productivy but for the most part, it’ll probably end up at the best a PC or a hundred messed up beyond words and the very worse, the entire corporate entity down because the network is down. Yeah, I’ve seen it happened, I’ve been on the recovery team, and guess what, productivity on my team those days were high but for the company, well, lets just say, the burst of creativity was dead and the persons causing the problems, were, well, lets just say, no longer employed.

Sorry, it just raises the hair on the back of my neck when I read articles such as yours and others about “Let them be free…” yeah, I get paid to clean the messes up, but alas, I got other messes to clean up without the creativty thank you very much!!!

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Brent January 13, 2008 at 2:50 am

So where I can find the rest of ‘Web 2.0′ standards you mention at the end of the post?

Outside of AJAX and lots of white space isn’t ‘Web 2.0 Standards’ an oxymoron?

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Tuldas January 13, 2008 at 10:10 am

Workers should be allowed to use everything Web 2.0 offers?

I can’t tell you how much youtube and flickr help productivity, I mean, I just get fired up to work when I look through pictures of kittens or watch videos of people being idiots.

Skype? Sure, spam for porn sites really makes me want to work harder.

Talking to college buddies through instant messaging really helps out.

To put it simply, if you pay for the computer, do what you want with it. If your company pays for the computer, you follow their rules.

It is not your equipment, it is not your money, it is being provided to you to do work, not to check kittenwar and see how your kitten is faring.

Work is somewhere you go to do work, not where you go to surf the internet. You can do that when you go home.

When I worked in IT, every user was taught the rules, explained why they were there, and amazingly they didn’t try to break them, just so they could watch some awesome video on youtube.

As to companies not updating, perhaps there is a reason. Is company A failing miserably and not making any money? Maybe company B is using old software because it is still reliable and doesn’t need a new update every 2 hours?

Expecting every company to pick up every new piece of software, just because it looks prettier, or because some other company is using it is absolutely ridiculous.

Not every company needs the newest piece of software. If the same software has worked for 10 years, and does the job just fine, why should you update? So that the users can spend weeks relearning what they knew?

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Reginald Braithwaite-Lee January 13, 2008 at 10:05 pm
Carole January 14, 2008 at 1:46 am

To all the security-paranoid folks: mostly we as users aren’t asking for our security-breaking home apps to be installed on your corporate machines. These should not replace the corporate apps. We just wish the corporate apps would work even half as well as the ones we use at home.

For example, why is it that the corporate web server only has a few hundred MB of available space for the entire company, when our personal hard drives have multiple GB? I mean, come ON.

Here’s another example: why is it that we can synch. up all our contacts between our ipods and PCs, etc., but after several years of struggling, the employer still doesn’t have PeopleSoft installed, and division A’s customer DB still can’t talk to division B’s customer DB?

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iloveintranets January 15, 2008 at 12:30 am

I agree with the article. But I also agree with the comments being made.

I work for a company that used to be free-range:do as you please. As a result of this, the Help Desk team spent A LOT of their time fixing everyones computer. Some of these cases meant having to install a completely new image. Ever since they’ve locked down the computers so that users can’t install whatever they like, life here has been great!

Yeah people can still YouTube & Facebook (for the time being) but their productivity is still quite high.

Also, because of the nature of the industry that we’re in, MSN is still in use (for the time being). People need to keep in contact with vendors & customers and MSN is a great way to do this. We will be moving to another solution though, but they can still communicate with the outside world.

I totally agree though, that when you come to work, you’re here to work and not see a video of the “tough man’s tequila shot” on YouTube. But given the free range to view what they want, I think users are becoming more savvy. As a direct result, when we put new technology in place that uses “Web 2.0″, the users will be all the more prepared.

Besides, if it wasn’t for the ability to surf where ever I would’ve never had found this article ;-)

On a side note : Facebook, YouTube, etc. will all be blocked in the coming months here. So let’s see the dynamic that’ll change amongst users.

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8Ball January 15, 2008 at 7:01 am

Like some of the other posters, I’m not sure a wide-open Enterprise is the best approach. But I do believe there needs to be more flexibility from Corporate IT departments when it comes to “standards” or officially supported software.

At our company, there is an approved application for a given desktop task: word processing = Microsoft Word, diagrams = Visio, etc. This results in Micro$oft being the de facto supplier for just about everything. I think that as long as the product comes from a reputable vendor, it should be available for our use.

This becomes especially critical for workgroup applications. An employee in the group may be adept at PHP, Perl, VB or whatever. Because they work directly with the issue, they have insight into how to create a viable solution that doesn’t involve engaging IT for development. In these cases I think IT probably should be involved as a consultant and to raise questions about things the employee may not have considered (redundancy, data portability, etc.), but that’s all.

Unfortunately, these types of projects never get approved because list says SQL Server is the approved solution for this type of project. Unfortunately, this results in quite a few useful projects either not being done or being done under the radar.

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