CIOs Share Tips For Managing Consumer Technology

CIOs Share Tips For Managing Consumer Technology

A tide of consumer technology is sweeping through our organizations, and CIOs must not let security get swept away with it. Here’s some advice on staying high and dry.

You've noticed it seeping into the IT workday. An end user calls the support desk for help connecting a new iPod to the desktop. Another asks how to add Skype capability to the desktop. Consumer IT-technology and devices initially designed and marketed for use in the consumer space-has infiltrated the workplace.

CIOs overseeing the invasion of consumer technology know it's not enough to simply write a management policy, post it on the intranet and then revisit it a few years down the road. "Stagnant policies and procedures just aren't practical for these types of technology," says Rob Israel, vice president and CIO at US$400 million John C. Lincoln Health Network . Policies need to be revised on a regular basis, according to user needs and organizational security concerns; Israel revisits his every four to six months. And for any policy to work, CIOs need to have a strong communication strategy, involve users in policy creation, build in security and find a balance between restriction and freedom of use.

Communicate Existing Policies

"I know some CIOs who have 150 or 200 security policies. That's just way too many," says Israel. His consumer IT-related policies total 30. The limited number makes it easier to communicate the policies and their updates. When Israel's team makes a policy addition or change, they explain the rationale to users with straightforward language. "We'll say, 'Do you know why we encrypt e-mail?' Then, we'll explain why we do it in three or four sentences," says Israel.

Involve the End-User Community

Jay Dominick, formerly CTO at Wake Forest University and now CIO at the University of North Carolina, sees more consumer technologies being introduced every day. Most come from students, who tend to have both disposable income and time on their hands.

"Our policy-making process involves multiple layers of faculty, staff, student input and the legal office," says Dominick. "So it can take six months or a year to reach consensus." In 2000, when Napster hit university networks, Dominick says "it took almost two years before there was a response from universities as to how to manage it."

That was then. Students now have input in forming the policy, so the specifics get socialized among the user community before the policy debuts. This way, there are no surprises.

"A policy that is a surprise won't get followed," says Dominick.

Balance Policy Strictness

Given the confidentiality restrictions around patients' medical data at John C. Lincoln Health Network, Israel employs a high level of strictness in his usage policies for consumer IT. At Kennametal, a US$2 billion industrial manufacturer, there's more leeway. IT works closely with end users to find suitable workarounds to its strict policies, says Raj Datt, VP and CIO of Global Information Technology. An example is a request for YouTube functionality by the sales staff. "Our sales team came to us asking for functionality so they could show potential clients current pricing and inventory products from a video perspective. We responded by enabling BlackBerry access to our ERP system for real-time customer data," says Datt. Working with users to create a viable alternative has helped change their view of Kennametal IT from that of a cost center to a value-driven organization. "If we don't give them an alternative, then they would just bypass IT," Datt says.

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