Finding Middle Ground in Office Use of Collaboration Tools

With today's networking and collaboration tools presenting IT with the same challenges as the personal computer did in the '80s, Jim Louderback offers solutions for IT and for employees-plus a middle ground.

Todays networking and collaboration tools present IT with the same challenges as the personal computer did in the 80s. And predictably, IT is reacting in the same ways.

I had a fascinating conversation with a CIO the other day. He was complaining about how users at his company were running roughshod over corporate systems and networks.

The most recent problems came to light when a network failure cut off e-mail and Web access throughout the companys far-flung operations.

Instead of simply calling it a day, creative employees quickly implemented workarounds. One group installed a quick and dirty Wiki to enable team communications.

Another took advantage of America Online Inc.s Instant Messenger application to route files and messages between geographically remote employees. Others used Web e-mail and wireless networking to keep the companys business flowing.

The CIOs response was predictable: He moved quickly to lock down corporate desktops and laptops to prohibit users from installing unapproved software or accessing unsupported Web services.

Its not the first time Ive seen such a dramatic, knee-jerk response to user-supplied productivity tools. In fact, the rise (and attempted squashing) of new collaboration tools, social networks and wireless connectivity today has eerie parallels to early PC adoption. And despite the best intentions of corporate IT, the results will be the same.

Back in the mid-1980s, when I worked at Chase Manhattan Bank, PCs were coming in the back door. Many divisions found that an IBM PC running Visicalc or 1-2-3 provided better information—and better decision-making support—than the approved, mainframe-based infrastructure.

The IT priesthood was not amused. Corporate systems auditors went on an anti-PC jihad, releasing a 20-page book of rules that these newfangled devices had to adhere to. Had we complied in full, those PCs would have been no more useful than a doorstop.

We all laughed, ignored the rules and kept working to improve Chases bottom line. Today, theres a PC on almost every desk at the financial powerhouse, and I suspect that those auditors and anti-PC leaders are all now happily retired.

Fast-forward to today. The PC has become an indispensable tool, but yet again, users are running rings around IT. These new products and services will transform business, just as the PC did in the 80s.

But just as predictably, many IT groups will resist—wrapping themselves in up in Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, application and network security and preserving the integrity of critical systems.

Wondering what those key applications are that will change corporate systems? Heres a quick list for IT—so they know what to forbid—and, for users, to help them hide. Ive also added my own recommendations, to bridge the gap between the two.

Next Page: Wireless networking is here to stay, so how can it be secured?