Sunday, March 16, 2008

A disturbing trend... viral marketing in business

Working in corporate IT for the past several years, I started seeing a disturbing trend in recent years. I noticed that more and more things were marketed towards end-users and not to IT departments like in the past. Companies have started marketing their wares directly to the end-users with little care for what type of impact they would have on the IT support structures.

The perfect examples are the iPhone, and Google Apps. Both tools were marketed directly to the appeal of the end-user and made every effort to create a tool (or set of tools) which could be brought into the business environment by an end-user with as little effort as possible. This, of course, would allow things like Google Apps and the iPhone to make it into corporate environments in extremely large quantities, and without corporate IT being ready for their arrival. This is an interesting shift in strategy, and is a marked departure from the past way of doing things.

Ordinarily I would be all for a technology company making its products so simple to use anyone could buy and implement them - but I'm starting to see that go to an extreme. I saw more iPhones pop up, and more Google Apps pop up than my teams knew what to do with. This caused resource problems in the case of the iPhone, and serious privacy and security concerns in the case of Google Apps and so I'm left trying to find a happy middle ground between usability and corporate supportability. Allow me to comment further.

IT support infrastructures are built upon standardization and minimization of effort. Without those two components, the corporate IT support structure becomes chaotic and ineffective. To take that to an example - a large company's IT support works best when everything is standard in the case of a laptop (hardware), core-loaded applications (OS/apps) and support tools (antivirus, etc). When a user deviates from the "mold" that corporate IT sets out it becomes difficult to support and can create major security and privacy concerns for the company. It's even worse when you consider that with some of these technologies (such as Google Apps) an end-user can easily bypass corporate security policy and cause catastrophic results without intending to do so. The situation is getting worse out there.

To address the problems with these "virally marketed technologies/products" they are as follows:
  1. Corporate IT is unprepared for entry of new technology into the corporate environment
  2. Support issues (software/hardware conflicts, etc) between existing and new technology causes sytem crashes, and other issues creating held desk havok
  3. Security and privacy issues with untested, unvalidated, unapproved technologies

So, you ask yourself - if it causes security issues, support issues, and stability issues for everyone all around - why do companies market like this? Quite simply put - it sells product. The iPhone exploded onto the scene and infected companies before IT departments were ready to deal with it - but like it or not it was here to stay. This creates a big problem for corporate IT units.

Corporate IT is left fighting the new battle - unknown/untested/unvalidated technologies being marketed at their user base and making its way into the corporate environment. What can IT do? Nothing, as far as I can tell. Being prepared is a good start if we can figure out how to do that, but aside from that IT will always be in reactive mode unless someone, somewhere comes up with a much better idea. Can you lock out any "unknown/unapproved" technologies? Maybe - but it's often extremely expensive and will be argued that it stiffles business and innovation. Yikes.

Let's be honest with outselves. Corporate IT has a big problem. This problem will likely get bigger, and more menacing as more things are marketed to "get around IT bottlenecks". It all goes back to the image IT has of stiffling business and imposing harsh guidelines which don't enable businesses properly. So what's the soludion, really? Corporate IT must change its image, educate its users, and seriously keep an eye out for these disruptive, virally marketed technologies - because if you don't think there are any iPhones, Google Apps, or other tools in your environment... you either rule with an IT iron fist're in big trouble.


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