Guerrilla IT

Instant Messaging, Flash Drives, IPods—what do these all have in common? They’re consumer-oriented technologies that are invading the business world; slipping in the back door in somebody’s pocket or purse.

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So, what to do with them? How do you control them? How do you protect your systems against all these invaders?

The short answer is you can’t stop them. I know of a company that banned flash drives because they’re not safe (you never know where they’ve been). But some of the employees still needed to quickly transfer large amounts of data from one system to another. They took somebody’s IPod and used that to move the files. Pretty creative.

So you’d better figure out how to work with them. Yes, it’s so much safer and easier to manage and maintain and environment that you can control, but the users of these technologies don’t care about your problem. They’re more interested in getting their job done in a way they perceive to be easier and faster than trying to learn how to use the technology IT has provided to them.

The users of these technologies have used them since they were in grade school. They’ve never known a time when they weren’t instantly connected with their peers. They’re comfortable with the technology that’s shaped their lives up until now and see no good reason to change just because you have some silly notion that it’s not safe or it’s too hard to manage.

The best thing you can do is sit down with these folks and find out why it works for them. What are they trying to accomplish? How does it work better than what you’ve provided? Do they understand what you’ve provided?

Maybe what you’ve got is actually better and they don’t know how to use it effectively. Train them on the consequences of using a technology that might put the company that pays them in jeopardy. Train them on the technology that you provide. Be enthusiastic about what you’ve got. But be open and listen to what they say about it.

Maybe you can learn a thing or two about these newer technologies. They might, in fact, be a good way to clean up a messy business process.

For example, if it turns out that you can make the communications between sales and manufacturing a little more efficient by allowing the sales people to use IM for quickly checking stock availability you might have the opportunity to be a hero by figuring out how to foster that kind of communication in a safe and reliable manner.

Can you talk the company into buying flash drives with built-in encryption to protect the data? That might solve a lot of problems where people are in a situation where they need data, but don’t have a network connection. Maybe a peer-to-peer collaboration technology like Groove is a great way to share documents with customers and partners. Figure out how to make it work for you, don’t fight it, you’ll lose.

There is a lot of money to be made in consumer technology so companies are going to keep pumping it out. Just look at how big the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is every year. Some of the technology is going to take root and will migrate into your company whether its business hardened or not.

Don’t be a stick-in-mud-control-freak. Be the trusted advisor that everyone comes to and asks about technology—any technology. That’s a lot more fun than being the guy who says “No” all the time.

Establishing and maintaining a rapport with your users is one the best ways to not only understand emerging technology but also understand what your company is doing and how you might help to make it more efficient and profitable.

A former IT executive with over 25 years of experience from the computer room to the boardroom, Mike Scheuerman is now an independent consultant. He can be reached at [email protected].