This is the third instalment of our At the Coalface series, where Brazilian IT professionals give their take on issues related to career development. Luciano Palma has worked in IT for 22 years, nine of which were at Microsoft Brazil, where he served as a technical evangelist until last year. He is now a lecturer for postgraduate courses around web management at Senac university in São Paulo, as well as a consultant and speaker specialized on social media strategies for businesses.
In this article, Palma comments on the ever-present dilemma of managing social media tools and consumer devices in the workplace and the cultural shift that is needed from the IT departments facing that challenge.
About 30 years ago, computers used to occupy their own room – a rather large room, by the way. Then technological evolution came along, allowing these machines to fit on a desk space – nowadays, a pocket is enough space for you to carry all the data and personal computing power you need.
Three elements enable this portable workspace: the ubiquitous Internet, cloud computing infrastructure and increasing usage of more powerful mobile devices.
In this new, transitional environment where the focus is moving from desktop PCs to mobile, pocket or tablet-sized devices, the curious fact is that individuals are evolving faster than the companies they work for.
As a consequence, IT departments are so overwhelmed by the task of just keeping the infrastructure running that they’re not keeping pace with the changes in technology, interfaces and user behaviour. On the other hand, users are obviously free to try out new technologies for their personal use.
Meanwhile, IT managers are still discussing ways to “keep everything under control”. And day after day, things are getting out of control. For example, if the IT folk decide to block access to Facebook and Twitter, as well as having unhappy users, they’ll have unhappy users blaming them on – you guessed it – Facebook and Twitter!
The company firewall may block everything, but the 3G feature on a user’s personal smartphone is free – yes, the personal smartphone, because although some individuals are willing to pay $1,000 on a top-level device companies don’t see the return on investment (ROI) of it. Individuals see the ROI though, because they don’t get too worried about the cost of a device – being able to FaceTime your grandchildren is worth a few dollars, isn’t it?
This “command-and-control” mindset is particularly strong in former colonies like Brazil, where pressure for results – as well as the “power versus obedience” model still reigns. The natural obsession of IT managers for control is thus reinforced by patrimonial culture and organizational structures, resulting in solid hierarchies.
As questioning is discouraged in these environments, decision power is concentrated at the top, disregarding user participation and employing a poor feedback processes that fails to open the eyes of IT managers to what people really need and want.
In such scenarios – fortunately – the benchmark tends to be “more advanced” countries, where there is a move towards a culture of listening and empowering those who “get the job done.”
What if IT departments gave up on trying to control every inch of the company’s network and started evangelizing users instead, making them aware of the benefits – and risks – of new technologies?
What if instead of just being seen as a cost center, IT became a technology advisory board supporting top managers around how new technologies could make them more money?
However, some changes would be required from IT in order to get to that stage, such as understanding other areas of the business better, rather than just the currently adopted technology.
It would also be advisable to listen to what users are saying and look at what they are doing, instead of reacting to or debunking every new request – as if IT managers and not the users themselves were the ones who know what’s better for… users!
The twenty-first century is showing us signs that information and knowledge brings better results if it’s distributed, rather than centralized. Our technology allows it.
Children can obtain all the information they need since the advent of Google. So why try to place all the information in a single place, if a search engine can bring exactly what anyone needs, anytime, regardless of where it is?
Why keep information in company desktops, hard drives, or sealed servers, when you can just upload it to Google Docs and access it from your smartphone, wherever you are in the world, or even in outer space, perhaps in the International Space Station?
Users are the ones producing and consuming information, so why not free them to choose the best place for storing it and the people with whom to share it? Sure, social media readiness is imperative for building conscience, but users are not dumb. They run the business!
Companies and IT managers should change their viewpoints and start working towards fostering a conscious usage of resources rather than trying to control them. Looking at the different ways individuals are using technology is also key. At the end of the day, users are now becoming experts in choosing the best technology for themselves. And IT is made for them, not for IT managers.
Click here to read all the articles written by Brazilian IT professionals for our At the Coalface series.
Image by alles-schlumpf licensed under Creative Commons.