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An IT Manifesto for the Constantly Connected Workforce

By Mark Settle  |  Posted 02-15-2011 Print

The subtitle of Stanley Kubrick's iconic 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove was How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Maybe CIOs in 2011 need to adopt a similar mantra: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Smartphones and Tablets." Most of our employees already have their electronic tool belts, fully equipped with smartphone, tablet, laptop, and home PC and printer. IT shops that are in denial, hoping the complexity of this landscape will somehow disappear over time, are sadly mistaken.

It's time to switch from being a reactionary force trying to hold onto the status quo to demonstrating true technology leadership by proactively supporting the use of new access devices throughout the enterprise. We need to develop a new "support contract" with the employees using these various devices. Here are three steps we can take today:

Step 1: Continue to support a very limited number of standard "tool belts" (maybe one?) for the IT-challenged employees who still remain in every large company, but promote and evangelize the use of other devices with the "buyer beware" caveat that support issues will largely be resolved through self service. Properly managed, this should become an exercise in expectation setting: If you use a standard, supported device, we (IT) can help you solve your problems. If you elect to use something different, we can only go so far (defining what so means) in helping you when something goes wrong. That approach won't work in all circumstances but will provide an 80%+ solution for the majority of problems encountered by users of unsupported devices.

Step 2: Embrace the reality of mobile applications. It will take a while to redeploy existing headcount from the support of legacy applications and give them new skills for mobile application development. In the meantime, IT should become a clearinghouse for "cool apps" that are already commercially available. Eventually, IT should be churning out its own monthly collection of "cool" mobile applications, but until that dream can become a reality, just start promoting other people's products and learn how to be an "early adopter" of mobile tools that are already out there.

Step 3: Start Web-enabling everything. Become an internal software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider to your own employees, and provide your users with browser-based access to the applications they need to perform their jobs. Look at the capabilities you are offering, and think about your users' desires to access those capabilities in any setting, at anytime, anywhere.

The three steps outlined above are tactical responses to the situation we find ourselves in. Two other, more fundamental, changes are desperately needed in the way we do business:

  • We need a new mental model for application development. We need to stop behaving like 19th century British generals and more like 21st century guerilla freedom fighters. We need a whole new paradigm for application development based upon user "pull" rather than IT "push." Users want to subscribe to the portions of applications they need to do useful work; that's why they minimize so many applications on their desktops everyday. They need only slivers of the large, complex applications we've constructed in the past. Ideally, they would like to assemble much smaller components of these applications into portals that are customized for their unique needs. And they are coming to expect "zero latency" in the databases that are feeding these application components. Building highly componentized applications, with real-time data interfaces that can be accessed on a subscription basis, is a radically new development paradigm for most IT shops, but one that we will all eventually be forced to adopt.
  • As a profession, we need to stop hiding behind network engineering as the ultimate cure for all security ills. We are going to have to participate in a much more difficult social conversation within our companies and start restricting data access instead of application access. Data is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. Every company needs to determine what data is critical to its health and survival, and restrict the dissemination of that data on a true need-to-know basis. That will be a far more difficult conversation to have in most companies than debating the most appropriate tool for securing the transport layer. But ultimately, it will be a far more effective way to manage security-related risks and liabilities.

Pundits like to use Facebook and Twitter as the ultimate examples of how constantly connected we all have become. I don't need to observe the behavior of my college kids to convince myself that we live in a constantly connected world. I can find clearer examples much closer to home. When my wife gets up in the morning, she turns on the computer before she turns on the coffee maker (and before she talks to me). That's the world I live in today.

About the Author

Mark Settle, chief information officer for BMC Software, joined the company in 2008. He has served as the CIO of four Fortune 300 companies: Corporate Express, Arrow Electronics, Visa International, and Occidental Petroleum. Settle has worked in a variety of industries including consumer products, high-tech distribution, financial services, and oil and gas. He received his bachelor and master's degrees from MIT and a PhD from Brown University. He is also a former Air Force officer and NASA Program Scientist.


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