Thursday, November 29, 2007

Collaborative Content Culture: Part 2 - Users Will Find a Way

This is a continuation from this post.

Recent changes in governance and oversight engendered corporate cultures that place a premium on the ability to audit and manage resources. The policies inherent can appear arbitrary and confusing to business users as IT resources struggle to work within newer workflows designed to support these requirements. Often there is a disconnect between functionality that users can enjoy in their private lives and what they must accept at work. Tools that are easily downloaded and customized to empower families and friends to share and collaborate via real time voice chat, digital photo albums or whiteboard utilities may not be sanctioned corporately giving rise to frustration when a user’s parents or her husband can appear to be less technically savvy and yet share images cross-continent so that mere minutes after Mom has taken pics of Little Johnny, the child’s grandparents can order prints from the local Wal-Mart or Costco and yet the workplace IT staff appear incapable of understanding or caring that tools exist that would enhance users’ ability to share data and functionality.

Part of the problem is education. Business users have spent years building intellectual property and to the degree that they can be educated about the dangers of digitalized data and the need to properly vet new technologies and tools from numerous angles and with varied skillsets, they will probably be more amenable and accepting of delays or outright refusal to allow them to install tools like Twitter or frequent social sites such as with corporate resources.

Another part of the problem is IT's focus. Perhaps IT staffers are people who enjoy less personal interaction and derive some amount of satisfaction from wielding control such as how we can control computers via programs or control networks with routing tables. For many programmers interfacing with business users can be complicated, frustrating and confusing. Who doesn't have some story about how obfuscated business processes become and how difficult it is to codify what it is that the business users want? If it's the reader's experience that IT personnel like to exert control then the leap may not be so illogical to understand that as corporate standards shifted from "figure out what the users need and make it" to "protect our digital assets and here's Microsoft's latest security tools to help you", we may have dropped the ball with focusing on creating workflows and audit trails and authority domains without making giving consideration to how negatively these changes could impact our users' collective experience with technology. Anyone that reads blogs can see that Project Management and Business Process Modeling are buzzwords and have been but in this author's experience, as restrictions are applied to help protect assets often its to the detriment of serving business users' empowerment and support as teams who come to wield power over access or who implement new security protocols may make good efforts to educate or delineate those processes but sometimes those communications fall short of their intended audience and the ones that suffer are the business users who have to accept ever longer delays in problem resolution or approval and installment of newer, enabling technologies.

I understand some changes are "in the corporate interest" and while there can be no doubt that the corporation, its officers and the IT staff as the keepers of the data and "maintain the borders" bear a responsibility to protect corporate assets this post is focused on employees “finding a way” and, as Jeff Mann pointed out, in numerous organizations users already have found ways to defeat corporate policies whether illicitly or through ignorance.

Considering the dichotomy of empowerment for which technology is praised and the culture of technological restriction that has only recently seen strong growth in the corporate, Microsoft world it’s no wonder that business users may feel entitled to use whatever they can regardless of corporate standards. Perhaps users think “if I can install it and it runs then it must be allowed” or “I’ll use it ‘til they tell me to turn it off” (this author has never used either maixm).

While corporate IT staffs must respond to potential threats to the company’s intellectual property, we have invested years in fostering the attitude that technology is designed to enable users and now we should devote attention to tools that help us protect our companies but those tools must make allowances for collaborative content for if we don’t we’ll find that users may overwhelm our resources with untested ‘Net-enabled applications out of a genuine desire to enhance the value of their collaborative work. Disregarding the shift away from the empowerment and enabling facets of technology to the more moderate position of validating users prior to empowering them would be a disservice to our users. We need to:

  • Acknowledge this difference in IT focus
  • Educate the users to what we're changing in our processes and why
  • Enhancing their functionality and collaboration
  • Apply validating security that protects our digital assets

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