One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard floated in a while is that of letting our users decide what platforms they use. The idea surfaced again here in an article about how Gen Y will change some of our institutions, including IT. It’s an interesting idea, and there are days when I feel like it’s already beginning to happen to those of us in the Advertising business. Perhaps we’re a good barometer for this particular trend.
For us, the trend is most apparent with regard to PDAs and Smartphones. Almost from the beginning, we’ve been very liberal in terms of what we allow and support. In fact, we’ve simultaneously allowed the use of Blackberry, Palm (Goodlink), and ActiveSync devices on our systems. We’re soon eliminating support for Palm-based devices, but at the same time we’re going to be adding support for the iPhone.
At first we were concerned about our ability to support all the different devices, but I’ve found it more and more difficult to make this argument. Beyond the initial setup, and possibly the need to support a specialized server, we really haven’t been taxed in terms of having to support these devices. For the most part, we get involved during the initial setup, and the basics of configuring a device for Blackberry server or Exchange Activesync are pretty much the same from one device to another. We’re currently telling users they can use any device they want as long as it supports ActiveSync (soon to include the iPhone), and we only limit Blackberry’s because of the licensing costs.
The issue becomes a whole lot trickier when we begin talking about computers and applications. We’ve always had pretty clear lines dividing our PC users and our Mac users. We’ve also had some pretty clear rules dictating who gets laptops. The applications we use have generally been even more defined. When new employees walk through the door we never asked them if they would prefer to run Outlook or Lotus Notes. Exceptions to these standards have been few and far between. It just seemed to make sense for us to standardize on the products we support.
However, I’ve seen the cracks beginning to appear in these areas too. The Macs are beginning to find their way into areas traditionally reserved for PCs. It’s usually been the result of moving an employee between departments, and not feeling that it was worth the effort to take away their computer just because they were switching departments. I still think it makes sense to standardize on hardware platforms for purposes of support, but I do think the day is coming in when we’re going to find ourselves facing some real battles over which platform we expect an employee to use.
While our software platforms have been more rigid, there is one excellent example of letting the users dictate our software choices. A few years ago, our Creative users decided they wanted to make the change from Quark Xpress to Adobe Creative Suite. IT was definitely involved in the process of switching, but the switch itself was definitely dictated by the end users.
This will be an interesting trend to keep an eye on, and I do think we may be seeing it impact our industry sooner than others.