A new wave of consumer technology, along with the Generation Y that has grown up with it, is about to hit corporations worldwide—and IT pros will have to deal with it. That was the top message coming out of the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 8-13.
Weve seen this before. The first PCs came out of hobbyists garages, as did the software to run them. Communications tools ranging from the telephone to instant messaging also started out with individuals in mind before becoming part of everyday business. As in the past, theres an opportunity for businesses that adopt new technologies, such as social networking, Web services and handheld devices, to flatten out organizational structures and improve communication and efficiency.
But things are different this time. The relationship between technology and Generation Y "digital natives," as Gartner calls them, is much more personal than before—for better or worse. Young people dont expect to check their right to access blogs, podcasts, and sites such as YouTube and MySpace at the door when they enter corporate America. And its pointless for corporations to attempt to control all uses of personal technology, Gartner analysts say.
But a problem arises when businesss need for security, which has never been greater, meets up with the anything-goes digital lifestyle. One unconventional answer: Go with the flow. Rather than work harder and harder to tighten controls on a system that is growing out of control, give up some of the control. Some businesses are even turning PC provisioning over to employees and giving them a stipend toward buying their own gear. This empowers users and winds up costing the company less to boot.
All those users must be treated like any outsiders seeking access, but that could actually simplify things by applying security policies to both insiders and outsiders equally. Another advantage is that, since all software ultimately may be run as a service over the Internet, it will make the dedicated PC less important in the overall IT picture. Every year, users are coming to the work force more skilled at managing their own computing environments. The potential for cost reduction and better management and security is tantalizing.
We are not advocating such a strategy for most businesses just yet. But consumer technology is a wave that cannot be stopped. Instead, it ought to be guided and used to advantage. To do so will take new ways of thinking that we are just beginning to explore.
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