August 15, 2013

The End of IT? With Freedom Comes Responsibilities

A recent article by Michael Enos, Chief Technology Officer of Second Harvest Foodbank, titled ‘The Future Role of the CIO in the NonProfit’ brought to mind the various quotes on the theme of ‘With freedom comes responsibility’ – Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela are the two I’m familiar with.

Michael’s premise is that the role of IT has historically been, “Here is your computer, and your database, and your file system, and this is how you enter information and save files.” However, it is rapidly becoming, “Here are all the ways you can work with information, now go to town and see how you can use this stuff to get our goals met!”

This is an idea that I touched upon in a recent workshop to discuss ‘cloud computing’ and non-profits. Much of the session focussed on security and data patriation (the need to keep local data in several, local private clouds), as these sessions often do. However, I postulated the following apocryphal story:

A marketing director of a medium size non-profit is fed up with the restrictions imposed on her by the organisations IT department. She can’t reconcile the freedom she has at home to use her computer and the internet as she likes, with the constraints she always seems to knock up against at work.

After all, she runs the organisations Twitter and Facebook accounts as she likes, has design and content control over their internet presence and can add and update things in those areas any time she likes.

When she works with the IT department however, it seems to take ages to get things done, is excessively expensive, and she has no freedom to change things as she pleases.

So, she decides to cut the IT department out of the picture:

  • she signs up to GoDaddy and creates a new domain name (a bit confusing, but with a little reading not difficult for a woman of her education and intellectual ability);
  • signs up for Office 365 to get email and file storage – again not hard once she’d read round the support forums;
  • found that Office 365 had too many constraints for her graphics and video files so started using Dropbox – all these files finish up in the public domain anyway, so she’s not that bothered about security here;
  • starts building a new website using WordPress – this took a little longer but she soon got the hang of it;
  • and finally acquired Salesforce from the Salesforce Foundation – now this turned out to be a struggle so she paid someone to do some work, sent one of her staff on a Salesforce Admin training course and now they’re getting along just fine.

In short, she acquired a fully functional suite of IT tools and applications without any input from the IT function and is quite happy running it herself using her personal, very high spec, laptop.

At this point I expected howls of protest from the room, instead, I was met by a knowing silence. This is not fiction, this is very possible.

Clearly I would question the suitability for a senior management position of someone who would do this without telling any other senior manager in the organisation. Equally, I can hear ever IT professional mentally ticking off all the reasons why this was such a bad idea.

But, I can envisage a senior management team ganging up on its IT function and kicking it down this road, whether it likes it or not.

So I’m fully on board with Michael Enos. The future role of the CIO is to set people free to exploit technology, but, and this is the big but, the role is also to educate people on the responsibility that comes with this. Security and data protection become everyone’s responsibility.

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Richard Cooper