Taunting the CIO

Think you can use technology to keep a tight rein on user behavior? Think again

The Wall Street Journal on Monday ran a special section whose lead article was headlined "Ten Things Your IT Department Won't Tell You." The image on the section cover showed a white-shirted IT guy clutching a keyboard and a tangle of Ethernet cables, looking straight at the reader, with duct tape over his mouth.

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The clear message: IT can't help you.

But wait, it gets better. Inside, the article goes on to provide 10 "tricks" for getting around IT restrictions: how to visit blocked Web sites using proxy servers, how to access personal e-mail on your BlackBerry, how to search for work documents from home using Google Desktop, how to store work files online using Box.net, and more.

The article reads like a CSO's worst nightmare – when in fact it's the CIO's worst nightmare. The implication is that user demand for unfettered technology access across home and work is so strong as to be unstoppable, regardless of the risk to corporate assets or productivity.

If even the Wall Street Journal – the strongest voice for the corporate agenda on the planet – has caved and is telling users to disregard their IT gatekeepers, CIOs are in big trouble. And to add insult to injury, one of the main advertisers in this special section was the picture of corporate respectability itself, SAP.

Reading this piece reminded me of Princess Leia's famous taunt to Imperial Governor Tarkin in the original "Star Wars": "The more you tighten your fist … the more star systems will slip through your fingers." If IT thinks it can keep "control" in the Web 2.0 era, it is sorely mistaken.

So what's a CIO to do? For starters, read the article and find alternate ways for users to accomplish each of the 10 things listed with less risk to your network than the work-arounds the Journal proposes.

Next, go to your executive team and implore them to face reality: As much as you'd like to have corporate policies in place to discourage shopping or surfing or IMing (or whatever) at work, they can't be enforced in the real world, no matter what technology you use. The more inconvenient your make these things, the more time employees will waste (and the more unnecessary risks they'll take) figuring out how to do them anyway. Instead, build a culture and incentive system where people can be trusted to focus on work and act responsibly.

Lastly, assume that your employees will have access to all the capabilities of the Web and figure out how to wring some additional business benefit out of them. Can they be used to improve collaboration? Productivity? Job satisfaction?

But whatever you do, don't kid yourself. When the Wall Street Journal says the cow has left the barn, the cow has left the barn.

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