Technology

Flexibility Is Key: Why the Top-Down Strategy Is Fading

By / Apr 16, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Instead of finding your organization on the losing end of an emerging trend, you might have better luck adapting to your association’s needs.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: A new industry trend comes along that puts more freedom in the hands of users, and people in the IT department are a bit skeptical about whether it’s right for the association.

Perhaps you might even be one of those people.

It’s understandable. There’s a lot to manage, from member data to meeting logistics, and if something breaks, you’re the one holding the bag. But maybe, if you reconsider the entire approach, you might find your organization in this spot a little less often.

A new study from CompTIA, tackling the white-hot bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, got me thinking about this.

The IT department has to come to the user, and match its approach to technology usage and workflow—not the other way around.

Rejigger the Approach

In the study, CompTIA notes that nearly 60 percent of all organizations surveyed are allowing employees to use BYOD approaches, at least in part, but suggests that this is only a starting point.

“Organizations seeking to maximize the economic and productivity benefits made possible by mobile technologies must look beyond simply which devices are used and re-examine business processes and workforce needs,” the group said in a press release.

In other words, the IT department has to come to the user, and match its approach to technology usage and workflow—not the other way around. But that’s not happening to the degree it needs to, with the top-down style of provisioning and securing devices winning out.

“Rather than focus on the device level, companies will need to assess the specific needs of their workforce and match the device,” CompTIA’s director of technology analysis, Seth Robinson, said in a statement. (Robinson admits, however, that “this is not a trivial matter,” and cost and operational disruption should be considered in the approach.)

Let’s give credit where credit’s due, however. Some organizations are already going a long way in this direction, putting stronger focus on technologies such as mobile application management. According to the study, 49 percent of organizations offer virtual desktops to users. Another 29 percent offer custom applications, and 28 percent offer cloud-based web platforms.

But CompTIA’s study might not be enough for the skeptics, so let’s put it another way.

A Blast From the Past

It may seem quaint these days, but in 2003, there was an emerging technology that drew the same kind of skepticism that cloud computing or BYOD draws today in some corners of the IT sector. You might have heard of it, and you might be using it right now. It’s called WiFi.

Government security blogger Dan Lohrmann, also known as the state of Michigan’s chief information security officer, did a really good job spelling out the key issue here: We keep doing this to ourselves with emerging technologies.

Lohrmann, writing on CSO, notes that just a decade ago, he nearly lost his job over a battle against the rise of WiFi networks in his organization.

And the battle taught him something important: “My role was (and is) not to fight WiFi, or cloud computing, or new mobile devices or any other new technology trend,” he explains. “Rather, how can our organization adopt and secure innovative practices that the businesses want? How can we build trust with business executives? What options can improve security and meet customers where they are really at?”

We did that with WiFi, though it might have taken a couple of tries. Can we do the same with BYOD, or cloud computing, or all of the other trends keeping our IT managers up at night?

Flip your Top-down Strategy

Lohrmann’s lesson here, a lesson of adaptation, is certainly worth heeding. The top-down approach has long been in danger of decay, and as users begin to simplify their setups and rely on tablets alone, we’re only going to see more of a need for a flexible approach.

A while back, my piece on why Microsoft Office didn’t really make sense for the iPad raised some eyebrows, but ultimately the point of the piece still stands—we’re reaching a point where it matters less whether we’re all using the same tools day to day; what really matters is whether those tools can talk to one another. Sure, your organization can have a preferred tool, but maybe the top-down dictation isn’t nearly so necessary.

Could it be that there’s a business case for being more flexible? Things can and will break (and a mindset recalibration might not come easy), but with the right mindset and an ability to roll with the punches, you might just find yourself on the winning end of a winning strategy.

Bottoms up.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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