Last time I checked, the whole argument in favour of using consumer technologies in the enterprise was their flexibility, their design experience and their overall more user-friendly approach to offering products and services. If that's the case, why do Facebook and Google suddenly seem worse than the most dictatorial IT exec?
Over a short span of days, both the search engine and the social networking service have made major policy decisions that are being forced upon people who may or may not agree with them. On January 24 Facebook said it would be moving over all profiles to Timeline, a sort of online scrapbook it debuted last September and which earned a number of underwhelmed comments from users, some of whom compared it to the old MySpace (ouch!). Earlier in the week, Google said it would be consolidating its various privacy policies into one, which will allow it to integrate user information from 60 of its products. That means much more targeted ads, of course, but only because Google will know far more about where you are, what you're doing and what you've done before. Oh yeah, and you can't opt out of the changes, either.
Meanwhile, back in the corners of corporate North America, CIOs and IT managers are trying to prove they're not the "no" people everyone seems to think they are. A research report this week from consulting firm Avanade said 34% of Canadian business leaders have changed policies to make their workplace more appealing to younger employees and 24% in Canada (compared to 20% worldwide) said they believe allowing consumer technology in the enterprise will only help with hiring and keeping the right people. I hope employees appreciate how hard these executives are working to welcome technologies whose makers don't seem to care at all about the preferences of their loyal installed base.
What's most frustrating about this is the resignation with which people seem to treat the immovable decisions of a Facebook or Google (does anyone expect any of those anti-Timeline Facebook pages to accomplish anything?) compared to the complete outrage with which they greet even the most prosaic changes in process or policy from corporate IT. When my company recently moved from a keypad-based security system at the door to a fob you have to scan, some people acted as though our management team had just stepped out of a training session with George Orwell. Yet most people probably won't bother to consider what Google's privacy changes mean, and will simply go on using the services as before. Despite the fact that these third-party companies do not need to keep people's best interests at heart the way, say, their employer should, the public more or less rolls over when Facebook or Google establish new rules about the way their personal information is managed, without consultation or approval.
Why do they get away with it? Because the core technology services they provide - the ability to find information, the ability to share it and the ability to connect with people - works really well. As long as IT is running like that, people can overlook a lot. There could come a day when consumer technology providers became so ruthless, so confident in the dependency of the people who sign up for their services, that the only champion of put-upon users will be the CIOs and IT managers who were bullied into integrating the likes of Facebook and Google as a part of their technology portfolio. The only way they'll ever achieve a similar kind of authority and control again is to be as good at providing enterprise IT as these firms provide social media and search. CIOs shouldn't emulate the consumer firms' management style, but the credibility and authority they've built through their products and services is a lesson too important to ignore.