BYOD: IT execs learn to let go of 'command and control' mindset

The consumerization of IT has some managers giving up gatekeeping. The result? More productive employees, more rewarding tech jobs.

smartphone in chains

Sesame Street's Elmo and Big Bird might be all about nurturing and empowerment, but the IT department at parent company Sesame Workshop has historically been a bit more like Oscar the Grouch in its zeal to control technology.

Like most corporate IT shops, Sesame Workshop's 25-person IT group was charged with keeping the data center running smoothly and directing whatever hardware and software platforms were put into play.

The mandate changed, however, a couple of years back when the top IT post was elevated to an executive-level position. The move was part of a plan to help advance the companywide charter of interactive customer engagement via a multitude of media, including the Web, social media networks and mobile platforms.

Soon, the mindset of openly embracing new technologies started to filter over to internal IT practices. Instead of a command-and-control mentality, IT began a concerted effort to become the department of 'yes,' including giving the green light to the use of personal devices in the workplace.

"I made it clear to everyone in the department that 'no' is never an answer

-- we can tell them 'This is how we can help you do this' or 'This is another option,' but we cannot flat out say no," says Noah Broadwater, CTO at Sesame Workshop.

Broadwater, like a growing number of forward-thinking IT executives, has aptly recognized that saying no in today's climate of consumer-driven IT is just an opening for business to do an end-run around the department and potentially jeopardize the CIO's spot at the executive table.

With ready access to pay-by-the pound cloud-based services covering everything from project management software to ERP, business users can easily license whatever software they need without intervention from IT. Moreover, as employees make personal investments in their own state-of-the-art smartphones and tablets, they want the option of using their own gear on the job.

Rather than trying to block users from bringing personal devices into the enterprise or restricting access to social networking venues like Twitter or Facebook, savvy CIOs are actually facilitating the juggernaut that's become the consumerization of IT.

"The reality is employees have their own devices, they're using online services for both personal and professional use, and they're saying what they're saying on social media channels," says Chris Curran, a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"You have control of none of those platforms, so you either have to embrace the reality of it or get steamrolled," Curran says. "Your choice is to become the forward-thinking, market-driving, high-value CIO or remain as the head of some back-office operation."

Gatekeeper no more

While the thought of ceding control can send even the most confident IT exec into a panic, experts contend this is not a moment to throw up your hands and capitulate. CIOs embracing "bring your own device" (BYOD) policies are reporting a real upside, claiming users are far more productive and satisfied with both their work environment and their newfound relationship with IT.

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