The role of the CIO as the instigator, selector and manager of technology in the organisation is being challenged from very newest and youngest members of staff within the organisation according to new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Workers joining your organisation this year straight from university are dubbed Generation Y. They have grown up with the internet and are very eager to use Web 2.0 technologies in all aspects of their lives, including work. As a result, their attitude towards IT policies and technology is radically different to the staff attitudes that CIOs have had to manage in the past.
Having interviewed plenty of CIOs, I know they are more than used to challenges, but I doubt many people enter the career ladder towards becoming a CIO expecting the least experienced members of staff to begin dictating IT policy.
Dennis McCauley carried out the research for the Power to the People, managing technology democracy in the workplace report, and said, "The pressure is building from below for greater choice in the IT they use." He says this is because the people joining your organisation are what are dubbed Generation Y in the US, they were born between 1980 and 1990. He adds it won't take them long to get into middle management.
When you first read/hear that younger workers want more choice it jars a little, you initial reaction is "what do they know?", but take a look around the office, your morning train or even your own pockets and you will see we and they carry so much connectivity around with us now that of course users want choice, they have already made it. By this I mean the iPhone and other 3G phones, as well as MP3 players that are now ubiquitous. At first they appear benign entertainment gadgets, but as the EIU report demonstrates, beneath their shining childlike appeal is a real threat to your organisation.
These devices threaten the CIO and their organisation from two fronts. The 3G internet access means that all those carefully crafted email and social media policies that ban the workforce from writing blogs and accessing Facebook from the corporate network are pointless. With their iPhone they can blog or Twitter about your organisation to their hearts content in the lav or during a smoke break behind the bike shed. And even if they don't update their social networks during work hours, the number of households in the UK without a descent computer and broadband is dwindling faster than public spending.
So what is a CIO to do?
"You need to move away from a prescribed approach and move to a management approach," advises McCauley. This doesn't mean throwing away the policies and allowing chaos to reign and just hope your corporate intellectual property and brand reputation survive. A lively discussion at the launch of the EIU report involving McCauley, report sponsors Trend Micro and gathered experts and journalists discussed how CIOs and other C-level management need to embrace this technology and the workforce's enthusiasm for it and guide them (nudge I believe is the trendy term now) to using it in a way that is both beneficial to them, but also your organisation. CIOs therefore need to modify their policies, provide upfront training on those policies, but most importantly give constant guidance and interaction with the workforce on the reasons behind the policies.
In recent years there has been a growing chorus, usually from the self interested, for CIOs to engage and invest in social computing, but really, you need to manage what has happened and is happening, rather than buying more kit.