I was reading the article “Bring your own apps: The new consumer threat to the CIO” on TechRepublic this morning. I had to chuckle.
The lead sentence,”The CIO’s control over workplace IT is gradually slipping away as today’s digitally-savvy workforce have decided they want to call the shots when it comes to the technology they use at work,” could have come out of a Computerworld from 1983. The IBM PC had been released in 1981 and in January of 1983 Lotus 1-2-3 allowed users to take IT into their hands.
Backing up, historically speaking, we find:
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977, and
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
(both courtesy “Bad Predictions”)
What does this “history repeating” moment tell us?
It has always been about users, taking what’s available to get what they need, when they need it, the way they need it. Technology is not an end onto itself. Technology is a tool to get something done.
And, ultimately, isn’t how we make, use, and improve our tools fundamental to our humanity?
It has been said that IT departments should be tool-chests for users. I’d argue that they need to be more like a machine shop, allowing users to craft their own tools. IT departments need to furnish the nuts and bolts of their enterprises and the tools to use those parts to fabricate whole new tools.
I think we need to stop clinging to old models. We talk about mashups with its throwback to the term “lash-up” which Merriam-Webster defines “as any improvised arrangement for temporary use.” To use this term actually belittles the activity: it implies that mashups are put together until IT comes up with a more permanent solution. Actually, mashups are a tool-defining activity onto themselves: users getting what they need, when they need it, the way they need it. Let’s give credit where credit is due: the user!