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Facilitate, don't dictate
THE way people work has changed dramatically, creating huge pressure on traditional working structures and practices. Nowhere is this more acute than in IT departments.
While the role of CIOs (chief information officers) has become much more dynamic and exciting in recent years, it has also become more complex.
It's no longer a matter of simply maintaining an IT system so it functions. IT departments are being asked to make the IT function do two things - drive business growth while at the same time, adapting their organisation to new ways of working.
But despite this radical shift in scope, one thing that hasn't changed is scrutiny on data security. Corporate data breaches regularly make headlines and are now a board-level concern. Indeed, over the last 11 years, the three most common security causes leading to loss of data were all the result of human error.
And this makes my next point all the more poignant.
Coupled with the challenges above, is the rise in individual users having a greater say in the technology they want to use in the workplace.
If IT doesn't enable them with usable tools they love, employees tend to find a way to bypass the system.
This new working environment, with such variability of device and app usage, is on a collision with increasing security threats - so it's understandable many CIOs are feeling the strain and that many in the industry pin their fears on the cloud.
However, for many businesses, the real threat to security isn't the cloud. It's the adoption of hidden or unapproved technology outside of the control of the IT department that will most likely lead to a data leak.
In the past, this trend of user-led IT was known as "shadow IT". But in a time where devices are mobile and the line between consumer and business is blurred, this is now a woefully outdated term.
Traditionally, CIOs have responded to the prevalence of shadow IT by imposing greater control on systems in an attempt to improve security. But many IT managers are rethinking this approach, and instead embracing the habits of the changing workforce.
Usability and popularity are increasingly becoming part of the decision making process when it comes to security.
Rather than imposing a blanket ban on collaboration tools, many of the CIOs I speak with understand the need to approach their role as a facilitator. They've realised that adoption and simplicity are the keys to ensuring data remains secure.
When working with businesses, I recommend a two-step approach that can see you regain control by listening to employees.
First, take time to discover what your staff are currently using, and most importantly, why. What frustrates them about using your existing tools? What new use cases have evolved as business needs shifted that you did not anticipate?
Set guardrails, not roadblocks
Second, look for ways to set guidelines for how your internal users can work together using the cloud.
Find champions in each team who are passionate about solving problems, but take their duty to protect company data seriously. Show them how to use a cloud provider in a safe and secure manner; what data should be shared to the cloud, what they should think about long term, and how they can involve you to support them.
Creating an IT environment where users are able to adopt the tools that work best for them, solves two key challenges - your data will be more secure - after all, you can only control what you see; and you will be fulfilling the new twin demands on IT departments to drive business growth and help employees adapt to a new way of working.
It's an exciting time to be working in IT. It is within our gift to help our colleagues to collaborate more and to be more creative, productive and dynamic.
IT now has a seat at the table with business leaders and if positioned correctly, can be a partner for organisations that want to operate at the very top of their game, while at the same time, remaining secure.