Technology is in the hands of users as never before. As web-based tools from social networking to online applications put powerful easy-to-use technology in the hands of users, technical development is being driven in a direction that may diverge from corporate IT strategy.
The initial reaction of many CIOs to employee use of consumer technology in the workplace has been defensive. Polls indicate that at least 50 per cent of workers are being blocked from accessing social networking sites like Facebook by CIOs who are worried about the impact on productivity and security.
But Jeffrey Mann, an analyst at Gartner, cautions against a negative approach. "The focus has been on risks and putting filters on et cetera," he says. "But now, what the better CIOs are doing is taking up the challenge to channel this energy. The greatest danger is if the CIO is saying 'this is bad and we're going to stop it'. If you embrace it and appraise, promote and reward people, it is less likely to go underground."
Mann believes super-users should be leveraged as champions of collaborative working. "Often, the challenge is to get people to use collaborative software," he says. "When people do want to use it and go out and find the software, you should use that energy, making sure they understand the risks and take the necessary precautions."
"We call these users 'power users' and they should be promoted as they are the people with the most energy for finding new ways to do things - how is that bad?" he says. "We have seen power users planning a show, a promotion, using consumer technologies to communicate and inform people about things going on in the company. You can encourage these people to keep up with other companies, collect examples of best practice, and sales people can use these technologies to collect information and contacts for prospects."
According to Keith Little, chief technology officer at the BBC, super-users have always been around but controlling attitudes towards them is changing. "The BBC intranet started as departmental tools run under people's desks in the 1990s," he says. "The BBC brought that together into a central system because you couldn't navigate and there was a problem with consistency. Before Web 2.0, everyone agreed that IT needed to bring all this together so that there was common information and a common set of content management tools."
Little set up a communications mechanism to encourage networks being set up by super-users. "What we tried to nurture in the early days was the creation of informal networks breaking through the organisational structure. We had a chap on the internal innovation team that did a lot of communications on this, a lot of going round and looking at what the super-users could do. Quite quickly it hit its own momentum and that role doesn't exist anymore."
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