Remember the opposition of traditional IT departments when the Internet pushed its way into corporate
But IT naysayers grumbled in their cubicles, complaining about all the impending security threats they would have to fend off, and hoping that the Internet would just go away so they could go back to defending the LAN. These folks tried to suppress an impending Internet revolution, but the demands of end-users, driven by the utility of simple tools such as e-mail, won the fight. Laggard IT departments were ultimately forced to get with the Internet program.
The emergence of the browser-enabled Internet in the enterprise signaled an early, clear triumphs of the end-users breaking free from the fetters of IT. Access to important information was no longer limited to those who knew SQL, or those who could run FoxPro on Windows, or those who could work the command line. The obscure commands scribbled on Post-It Notes affixed to monitors in offices everywhere were replaced with two simple words: Click here.
Unfortunately, the lessons provided by the failure to stifle the Internet have not been learned by many IT leaders. Yes, the Internet has been broadly accepted in IT. Anyone in IT who didn't finally get the value of the Internet during the past five years would be lucky to now be working the closing shift at the cash register at your local CompUSA. But the core IT revolution, of which the Internet represents just one front, is decentralization -- a shift that still goes unrecognized in many IT environments.
The days of the paternalistic top-down IT department are nearly gone. My message to chief technologists everywhere: Your users have left the nest; the best thing you can do is hope they make the right choices and occasionally call you for advice.
For now, you can try to keep your employees on a cluster of centrally managed Lotus Notes servers for "collaboration," but once they take 10 minutes to download and install Groove Workspace, they will ultimately self-organize within "shared spaces" that require no server -- and your role as collaboration traffic cop will quickly become irrelevant. You can forbid IM within your company, but savvy users will figure out how to tunnel IM through open ports in your firewall and bypass any tiresome finger-wagging by IT guards on security watch. You can make open-source software off limits to your own developers, but they will likely build much-needed apps leveraging the distributed development model of MySQL while you're yawning through the inevitable Gartner "magic quadrant" slide a half-hour into a proprietary database vendor's presentation. Didn't the rise of Linux teach everyone a lesson?
Furthermore, if you've taken a wait-and-see attitude toward Web services, Wi-Fi, distributed software development models, and peer-to-peer technologies, you're not just ignoring budding technologies -- you're resisting an inexorable force that should be leveraged, not feared. Decentralization is the proverbial forest, and technologies such as these are just some of the trees. Individually, you might able to dismiss them, but missing the broader context of decentralization could be a career-limiting mistake. In the end, those chief technologists who work to connect the distributed dots will survive in the enterprise. But I'm not so sure about those who continue to resist it.