The Future of Enterprise IT: Tasks & Tools vs. Command & Control

In the past 7 months CAN has expanded from 4 to 20 employees.  We have always been focused on providing our employees with the tools they need to accomplish their tasks.  We want them to love working and helping other people work smart.
As I plan for CAN’s growth I have been having a lot of conversations about CAN’s IT strategy with vendors and employees.  I have come to realize that a conversation about technology is a conversation about how people work, and that Traditional Enterprise IT doesn’t understand the future of work.
Traditional Enterprise IT is about command and control.  It is focused on how easy it is to manage what people can do, not on how people need to work.  Vendors tout customization and integration, but are unable to explain why something was designed as it is, or how a user would use the system.  Integration tends be a form of collusion cooked up by the lawyers and accountants to keep you hooked to their system.  All of this has created an environment where solutions aren’t designed, can’t do really anything because they can do everything, and it becomes more difficult to use new technology instead of easier.
It is clear that the future of work is not command and control.  Traditional Enterprise IT assumes that users don’t understand technology, what tools they need, and if allowed will break the system.  This might have had a time and a place, but not today.  Design, programming, and engineering have replaced repetitive manual tasks.  The United States manufactures twice as much today as in the 1980’s, and roughly as much as China with 10% of China’s work force.  Factories are now filled with engineers, designers and programmers instead of blue collar workers.  So why do we treat knowledge workers the same way we used to treat factory workers at the turn of the 20th century?
Instead companies need to create an environment around tasks and tools instead of command and control.  Employees need to know their tasks, what by when.  They also need to have and understand the tools they need accomplish those tasks.  CIO’s need to focus on providing a solid base work environment, provide training, and allow employees to work as they see fit.  Companies need to create an environment were users are encouraged to understand and explore technology and how it can be used.  How effective could a general be if they didn’t understand how their arsenal and troops could be most effectively used? So why do we create an environment that discourages employees to learning and exploring the tools they need to accomplish their tasks.
Today’s workers are ready for this new way of thinking about IT.  It might be uncomfortable, but it will make people more thoughtful about their work.  In a “tasks and tools” environment training about tools, security and the creative process is key to success.  This is harder than command and control, but it empowers workers and further pushes them to think about how they get work done.
At CAN we still have security controls such as automatic password resets, automatic software updates, firewalls, and logging.  However beyond that we have opened up our work stations.  We provide each employee an iMac, iPad and iPhone setup with the basics, and then they are free to download the software they need.  However, we don’t just let our employees roam free.  We provide technology training every Friday afternoon for employees that want to learn how to work smarter.  We also still have standards about how things get done, but we have moved standardization further down the creative process.  For example, we don’t care about a report until it is uploaded for review, and it isn’t until a salesperson sends out an initial proposal that we monitor sales activity.  This allows more freedom in the creative process while also allow for quality control.


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