Employees Are Not Consumers – They are Comrades

Thought leaders (hate that term) are all abuzz with the consumerisation of IT. What they mean is that the modern workforce now has the expectation that their technology will be as good as the stuff they use at home. At this point that fact is fairly obvious. We must be careful though not to fall into the trap of thinking of employees as consumers in the general sense that economics defines the term.

Employees may consume things and may have some other traits in common with market consumers but their behavior is not governed by capitalistic motives. They are in fact much more communist in nature. Basically – employees may consume goods and services required to execute their responsibilities at work. They may demand the choice over what those services are. They will however never believe they should have to pay for it in the long run.

Corporations may be active participants in capitalism but in their day to day internal activities they execute more or less like a collective oligarchy. The larger the organization, the more pronounced this behavior becomes. I don’t pretend to be a political theorist but I do know that the basic difference between socialism and communism in the economic sense is the control over the means of production.

Socialism is not necessarily in conflict with capitalism. It allows for private ownership but with centralized regulation. Communism demands that all control be centralized.  IT organizations have long acted as if it was their responsibility to quash independent technology “for the good of the state”  with security or compliance used as justification.  As such it becomes ever more difficult to deliver even the most basic changes as more and more effort is required to maintain the bureaucracy.

In many authoritarian regimes, shortages develop as the organization is disincented to expand services and a black market  develops. In this scenario operational business units seek to circumvent the centralized control and satisfy their technology desires on their own. Once frowned on, it is these shadow IT departments that are dragging companies into using external cloud services one department at a time.

I mentioned earlier this week when I challenged you to listen to your own plumbers, there is a realignment of IT skill sets and job classifications coming. The opening up of the internal IT marketplace to free enterprise IT brought about by mobility and cloud offerings is exciting. It is also very scary to those highly invested in the status quo.

Technology intraprenuers outside of traditional IT organizations will rise and fall creating risk and reward alike.  Like the nouveau riche of the former Eastern Block, there will be individuals, departments and corporations who figure out early how to leverage the unprecedented access to technology and create competitive advantage over others mired in the bureaucratic past. The truly successful companies will be those best able to manage rather than restrict the change.

There is tremendous opportunity for us to benefit financially and organizationally in these new business models but be warned there will be failures. You should be prepared for those and not allow the old guard to use the cliche “I told you this would never work.” Every slip by one of these off-book initiatives will be used as ammunition to slow down the change.

There is a battle over budgets being fought all over and IT has to work harder than ever to justify maintaining their aging war machine. Yet it is a system doomed to crumble under its own weight. The realignment of skill sets in individuals is enormous but it is the budget battles that will change the character of the enterprise. A rougue may be able to establish a beach head with a managed service paid for with a credit card but eventually the attitude that they shouldn’t have to pay for technology themselves will return and they will look for the state to step in and pick up the check (and all the headaches that go along with dealing with the vendor.)

This new state run relationship though will be different. IT will no longer own the means of production – only the power to regulate. Time will tell where the balance of power settles and whether or not managing the mosaic of external providers delivering cloud services will be as dysfunctional as the system we have today.

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