Both sides now

I was reading the collaboration section of a magazine geared to IT professionals when I came upon an article titled Cat-Herding Nightmare.

The first paragraph echoes the Web 2.0-is-good-for-you party line I’ve heard again and again this week:

Web 2.0 collaboration tools are irresistible to end users: They’re easy to set up and use and can be accessed from anywhere. Employees can upload or create documents, spreadsheets, wikis, and blogs, then invite co-workers and partners to access, edit, and download content. These apps often include productivity enhancers such as search and tagging. And not surprisingly, vendors are encouraging the trend–Microsoft and IBM have added wikis and blogging capabilities to enterprise apps including SharePoint and Lotus Quickr, while Google and upstarts like Socialtext, PBwiki, and Jive Software are luring corporate users with freebie accounts and dead-simple deployment. provision users in minutes, pay with discretionary funds–and never make a single call to IT.

Warning to IT folks: Mayday! Mayday! Turf is being threatened. Put up the shields. Ready the cannon. Mayday! Mayday1

All these wonderful benefits. Too bad there’s a dark side.

Sadly, all IT gets out of the deal is a big fur ball as it struggles to organize corporate content run amok. The potential for exposure of sensitive information or theft of intellectual property runs high, as do concerns about noncompliance with corporate or third-party requirements as end users scatter sensitive information around the Internet. If the company gets tangled in litigation, data relevant to discovery requests may be lurking unknown on third-party servers, exposing the organization to financial or legal sanctions.

Implication: IT can’t trust those pesky users. Possible solution: Get the knock-off versions of web tools provided by IBM, EMC, BEA, and Microsoft. That lets IT continue its battle to maintain control, even if it means dumping all those great benefits. The article notes that the products from the big boys…

…also come with the downsides of enterprise software–longer and more costly deployment than software as a service, and longer lag between upgrades. Enterprises are unlikely to dip their toes into collaboration through a six-figure software deployment. It’s not uncommon to find companies using SharePoint and third-party SaaS products.

The article concludes that IT needs to keep ahead of technologies and provide services before users demand them. That would be great but I am skeptical. Since IT has rarely come down from its me-first perch, why stop now? Isn’t it easier to focus on the damage workers might do rather than the benefits an open business gives its stakeholders. Should we really let IT make the tradeoff between the hair-ball messiness of web 2.0 and staying in business? Nah, we won’t get fooled again.

I’ve look at this from both sides now, it’s up and down and still somehow, I don’t think we should be picking sides at all. IT should support the business, not the other way around.

How it’s going to be