Opportunity Knocks

by Brian Katz on June 5, 2012 · 5 comments

I spend a lot of my time at work working on problems. I am sure a lot of other people do the same thing whether they are working for large enterprises or small mom and pop operations. We all spend our time working on the latest problem and everything we do is framed as a problem. In my field it could be something large like how do we enable BYOD at our company to something small, how do I connect to this WiFi access point, but it’s always a problem. And this is one of our biggest issues with everything we do today, we think in problems as opposed to opportunities.

Now – there is nothing wrong with thinking in problems, but in most cases when that is what you are doing you are being reactive. The language you are using is already putting you behind the eight ball and now you have to figure out how to get out from behind it. Problems are one of the reasons that it is very hard to think strategically in most companies and you usually end up doing things tactically. One way people try and solve this type of thinking is to frame their large problems over a long period of time forcing them to have to think strategically. This rarely works. Too many small issues occur along the way to solving the large problem requiring tactical thinking that just doesn’t mesh with long-term strategy.

What happens though when you start focusing on opportunities instead of problems? Opportunities can be broken up into problems but in most cases it is figuring out how to fulfill a need that most people don’t necessarily realize is there, either because they can’t see it or they are so busy trying to solve problems that they can’t pause long enough to see the opportunities.

This comes into play when we start to think about the Consumerization of IT (CoIT). Tal Klein (@virtualtal) recently gave a presentation where he defined CoIT as “the user outmaneuvering IT in order to be productive”. I disagree with this definition but plenty of people on twitter thought it was right on. They see two different things gong on here (let’s assume these people are part of IT), first they see plenty of people finding ways to break the rules to get their mobile phones and tablets on the corporate network and accessing their ‘stuff’, and second they see these people turning to the many consumer apps that accomplish the same things that the crapplications do at work but the consumer ones are easier, more efficient, and more productive to use. They know that their end users will ask them day and night to use the app that solves their issue, maybe its Evernote because they can’t use OneNote, or maybe it’s Dropbox so they can get their work files on their mobile device. Whatever it is that is out there that employees think will do the job the best.

This isn’t what CoIT is. It’s not the user going around IT although that can be one of the outcomes of IT not paying attention. CoIT is the fact that the consumer now has the same devices that the business has and is using them for their own personal use. They want to get that same ease of use that they get personally when they do work. They want to be more productive and efficient. They want to be able to spend the extra time with their family or friends that using these devices enables. The problem (pun intended) with this is exactly that, IT approaches it as a problem and usually one that they aren’t ready to solve.

The businesses that are really starting to succeed and move forward these days are the ones that have embraced mobile and incorporated it into their strategies. They see the opportunities and possibilities that their employees now have due to CoIT. They see the opportunity to go mobile first. They look at how their employees work and start to think of the possibilities if they turned those legacy apps and processes into mobile opportunities. They design new user experiences (UX) that are built around presenting the data and making it easy to manipulate. They challenge themselves to free their data and open up new ways to interact with it through APIs. They find possibilities for identifying people and allowing them to use apps while mobile. They figure out ways to mitigate the risks and make it easier to access the rewards that can come with a new way of thinking about their company.

Let’s not be naïve and assume that some of these opportunities aren’t hard, and in some cases we will expose problems that need to be solved. The difference is that if you are solving problems that are part of opportunities rather than issues that are part of problems, your people are going to be motivated to solve them faster. The fact that some of these problems are real problems won’t be realized in many cases until after they are solved.

When you approach CoIT as a partnership between employees and IT and figure out ways to extend the opportunities that are there it becomes easy to forget about those people that are making an end run around IT because they will be encouraged to help IT create the opportunity.

Another quote that Tal imparted to me the other day in conversation was “in order to get employees using IT tools, IT must ensure the tools they provide are better than those available on the consumer web”. The point he was making here was that you have three choices when you implement solutions for people that fill the opportunity of CoIT. You can either create a solution that is worse than what is out there, as good as what is out there, or better than what is out there. The one that gets users to take advantage of the opportunities IT is providing is the one that is better than what is out there. For example, if Dropbox gives you 5 GB for free, don’t offer an enterprise version of Dropbox that give you the same 5gb or less, give them something that gives more than that. Then it becomes a no brainer for them to use it over whatever commercial app they might have been leaning towards. When you enable your employees to be more productive by designing solutions to meet the opportunities, you incentivize them to be more productive and make them overall happier employees, which ends up translating to your bottom line. Just make sure that next time opportunity knocks, someone is willing to answer the door.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tal Klein June 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Right on. As you can imagine, my stating that CoIT is users outmaneuvering IT in order to be productive is meant to get people thinking about the role of IT. There are still CIO’s out there who believe BYO is something they “allow” or control through policy. Stop it. I mean it. Just stop. It’s not working.

It’s time to learn to love your users. Think of the good old days when people loved to use their work machines because they had productivity apps. Or wireless network cards. IT needs to be ahead of the commercial market, not behind it. There is no place for curmudgeons in technology. I know IT and users have grown apart, but to make this thing work IT needs to stop being Team No. Will that guarantee nobody will break the rules? No. But it will cost less and I believe will almost certainly yield greater user adoption of IT tools.


Lance Peterman June 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I pretty much agree with the premise. CoIT, in my opinion, is raising the expectations for enterprise applications. In some respects, it isn’t fair, because many consumer apps are far simpler than most enterprise apps. Though one could argue that SAP could learn a lot from Amazon (well, a lot of companies could).

I said in one meeting the other day, “if we have to develop a training program to use this web application, we’ve already failed from a user experience perspective.” That raised some eyebrows, but its true.


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