ITKE Community Blog

Aug 31 2009   5:37PM GMT

Would Shakespeare slice up the server admin?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

I can’t help but wonder: If Shakespeare were writing today, about office life instead of aristocratic foibles, what kind of barbs would he lob at IT? I suspect it wouldn’t be pretty.

His (in)famous call to “kill all the lawyers” surely drew a laugh then, but maybe now he’d urge us to flay the helpdesk or roast the server tech. He certainly wouldn’t be alone.

Millions of workers around the world are in the same straits: They’ve heard about the joys of Firefox, the wonders of Google Docs, or any number of other great programs or Web sites that might improve how they work. Indeed, they use these apps at home all the time, and they love them. But at work they’re stymied by the IT department, that class of interoffice Brahmins that decides, ridiculously and capriciously, how people should work. …

In the information age, most companies’ success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.

Ok, so there’s worse libels than interoffice Brahman (which is actually kind of growing on me), but this comes after Google’s similar call for a user revolt. The popular BBC sitcom The IT Crowd portrays its protagonists as social outcasts lead by a clueless IT management drone (see below).

Can’t IT just do its job without some uppity journalist telling them they don’t know what they’re doing?

Because while there are legitimate gripes about treating workers like adults, there are more serious dangers of losing sensitive information. Thumb drives, for example, are generally considered as simple a technology as they come, and workers clamor for them trying to port files from home and work computers to, you know, get their job done. Trying to do an approved file move over a VPN network takes orders of magnitude longer, so why would anyone ban them? Because lost or stolen thumb drives happen all the time. And even if they’re finding USB drives, users just aren’t particularly savvy. And as for the call to allow free-for-all on instant messaging, our very own Nathan Simon just wrote about a new Trojan targeting Skype users: What happens when ne’er do wells get access to an executive conference call? You can be sure that IT will be held responsible for the technology the executive’s nephew helped implement.

There’s plenty more deconstruction and critique of the article over at DVICE but, for all the technical nuance that the Slate article misses, it catches on to a very real demand: Users want their freedom, and they want it now. Two years ago, executives started demanding their iPhones despite security and technical concerns, but now more users are demanding their own tools, and like Farhad, they’ll use them whether you like it or not. What can and should IT do to meet them halfway?

I suspect, like with so much in IT, there’s no one real answer. While columnists will happily proclaim “Tear down this wall!” regarding IT restrictions, each shop is different, and some restrictions are outside IT’s control. The “No Fun” restrictions Farhad cites, for example, often come straight from a CEO tired of seeing half an office’s monitors tuned to Facebook or EBay. While you ponder your strategy, I’ve included a snippet from the IT Crowd below. If you’re struck by any insights or would like to share you how you met your users halfway in restoring IT sanity (or even how you quashed a user rebellion), let me know in the comments or via e-mail. I’ll keep your name and affiliation private if you’d like.

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4  Comments on this Post

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  • Nnf97
    I am all for the freedom. The user knows what is good for their productivity. What IT needs to do is to tell them the good and the bad of it, and how it interacts with the rest of the organization. IT needs to be able to lead in designing open/flexible and scalable architectures, that allows mixing of multiple tools. Paraphrasing the words of a famous man, IT needs to either lead, follow or get out of the way. Right now, IT does neither, but it obstructs. User, "I need to use iPhone", IT, "You can have that". User, "Why not?". IT, "Because it will cause problems x,y,z with our current systems". This scenario plays out over and over again. In your example above, if the are trojans out there, it is our duty, as the "experts", to figure out how best to mitigate that threat, and not tell the user, you can not use the tool. As long as IT is seen to play the role of the leader and the expert, we will be fine. I am afraid, we have fallen too deep into the mind set of "we will decide what YOU should be using". I cant give too many details about my organization. But I will say, we were not making traction trying to get VMWare rolled out. When I came in, I asked if we had shown the pros and cons of the solution to the users, it hadnt been done. But IT had been blaming the users for not accepting the new solution. We started talking to the users, listening to their needs, explaining how VMWare might help, and where it might not, and overtime users started embracing it. Now, we have a robust VMWare deployment in the process of being rolled out. Hope this wasnt too long.
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  • Nnf97
    A bad typo right here, and I didnt see a way to edit my comment: Right now, IT does neither, but it obstructs. User, “I need to use iPhone”, IT, “You can't have that”. User, “Why not?”. IT, “Because it will cause problems x,y,z with our current systems”.
    4,250 pointsBadges:
  • Nottslanding
    Nnf97 has some very good points. In most companies (unless you're a high-tech development company) there is something called "The Bottom Line" and "Trade Secrets" and "Sensitive Data", etc. If we start from the assumption that everyone has jobs to do, introducing and accommodating the wide range of new cool stuff can really cut in to the productivity and overhead of an organization. I think that sometimes the perception that IT is in the way arises from the fact that the "user" doesn't really know what IT does, and vise versa. At one place I worked, a phone company, IT decided that it would host an annual "open house" for non-IT employees in the company so they could see what really happens behind closed doors. They were ASTONISHED! It became such a popular event that we had to start taking reservations for tours. When the Office came to IT, it was a wonderful time to learn what the needed, what was bugging them, how an emerging technology could really help in their work, etc. IT was able to talk about the technical and administrative challenges, the "life cycle" of some of the new doo-dads. Perhaps such face-to-face talking needs to be institutionalized to ensure the problems, needs, and resources are clearly understood.
    85 pointsBadges:
  • Michael Morisy
    Thanks for the great points, [A href=""]Nnf97[/A] and [A href=""]Nottslanding[/A]. I think IT-user communication is incredibly important, particularly in terms of educating threats. But the problem I've run into talking with IT administrators is how to communicate: E-mail blasts, mandatory meetings, etc. are often what's attempted first, with little success because, honestly, don't we all have enough of both? I really like the idea of Nottslanding's open house. Any thoughts on how you would structure it? I'm also curious if anyone has tried a user-to-user approach in IT security and help desk administration, that brings users into the process with a wiki, Yammer, or other collaborative tool.
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