Viral IT: adoption by stealth

Viral IT

Theory tells us the well run organisation lays out its IT strategy well in advance. It thinks top-down. It demands business cases and Requests for Pricing. It consults stakeholders and resources implementation projects. But the reality can look quite different – even in organisations that pride themselves on their discipline and attention to detail. It’s all about viral IT.

And it may have started with the CEO’s iPhone. One day the CIO took a call from the CEO: “Can you get my new iPhone onto the network?” The thought ran through the CIO’s mind: “We don’t supply or support iPhones.” But he held his tongue. “I’ll get Support onto it straight away”.

New world; new technology

Once upon a time an employee went to work to enjoy cutting edge equipment. At home was a slow and bulky PC running an old version of Windows. On the desk at work was a powerful box linked into a slick network serving up all kinds of interesting software.

Today the average employee comes to work leaving behind their cutting edge consumer equipment in order to operate their employer’s creaky, Neanderthal systems. No wonder employees started smuggling in their own gear and finding ways to hook up to their social networking site-of-choice through the corporate network.

Now the corporation is capitulating. Maybe it started with the CEO’s iPhone or the graphic design department’s iMacs. Now the CIO is using an iPad and the support staff carry MacBook Pros. And the IT department is breaking all its own rules by hooking people into cloud-based services for file sharing, project management or conferencing.

Why worry?

So what’s the problem? First, there’s not a business case in sight. The organisation’s direction has become disengaged from any explicit planning. The future is being shaped by under-the-counter choices.

Second, supporting all those new systems – both hardware and software – stretches the capabilities of the organisation: IT support staff must be highly resilient to cope with the daily challenges of new software and hardware.

Third, “discovery” takes on a new complexity. Content of all kinds – including data, text-based documents, image, sound and video – is spread across both corporate and cloud-based repositories. Finding the answer to a question may demand a world-spanning search for relevant information held not only in disparate locations but also in disparate forms.

Now the good news

This all sounds like very, very bad news. Surely there’s an upside? Well, yes. An obvious positive is the willingness of employees to adopt new systems. The users are choosing the systems all on their own so there are no complicated and ineffective implementation plans. Passionate system champions evangelise other employees, persuading them to adopt the new systems.

Suppliers of the new corporate tools are learning rapidly from consumer products and services. Employees – avid consumers deeply familiar with the trends and possibilities – happily experiment with different offerings and quickly learn which new tools are likely to work for them.

Viruses can be healthy

How should senior managers respond? Viral introduction of new technology won’t be stopped by edicts from on high. Instead, senior management needs to learn how to harness the energy and enthusiasm new information technology is generating, flushing the activity out into the open so it can be discussed and weighed up in a collegiate atmosphere. Senior managers must be part of the discussion so they can influence thinking and draw decision-making into the mainstream.