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Do Liberal IT Policies Get Better Business Results?

A recent survey says companies with more than 10% annual growth allow business units to pick the services, apps, and devices they need. Is it time for IT to loosen up?

The advent of BYOD, software as a service and cloud-based apps that straddle business and consumer use have created tensions between business units and IT departments. Business units and individual employees want the speed and freedom offered by the cloud and mobility, while IT must manage risk, meet compliance requirements and also try to meet business needs. Are we doomed to perpetual war between business and IT?

That's the subtext behind a recent survey sponsored by Blue Coat Systems and written by the Economist Intelligence Unit. What the survey of 1,900 global IT and business executives found was not, however, an all-out war between the IT and corporate departments. Instead, the picture is more nuanced.

There's little doubt that IT departments and the other business units in a given organization are at odds over the use of consumer-oriented devices and external services. According to the survey, it's the business end of the company that's getting its way more often than not.

[Are IT departments going to disappear in an age of public cloud services and mobile devices? Network Computing readers tackle this pressing question in "The Future of IT Is Not Extinction, Say Readers."]

"In years past, many a CIO, CTO or IT director sought to resist or at least contain the loss of authority implied by business units' penchant for choosing their own technologies," reads the survey report. "If the results of the survey conducted for this report are any indication, however, such IT recalcitrance is fading fast."

Much of this fade is not, however, due to a "groundswell of business units seeking to usurp IT's authority to make technology decisions." Rather, it's about the business units demanding a more collaborative role in the shaping of IT policy: "Business units seek more collaboration in such decisions, rather than sole authority."

The consequences of not doing so mean a world of even more casual employee use of unauthorized services and unaudited software--and IT being relegated that much more to the role of follower rather than collaborator, let alone leader.

Another apparent reason for collaboratively granting business units that much more IT autonomy: better business performance. The report claims companies with more than 10% annual growth have more technological autonomy--that is, freedom for the business units to pick the services, apps, and devices they need--and are also more confident that "such autonomy will deliver concrete results to the business."

It's not clear, though, if the gains are due to the autonomy, or if the autonomy is a result of the gains. In other words, it could well be because a better-performing company can more easily afford the tools needed to grant such autonomy, and not only because autonomy itself has allowed the business units to thrive.

Despite increased collaboration between business units and IT, 46% of the business units surveyed indicated "they have made technology decisions in the past year without consulting IT." Cloud storage applications, social media, and office applications were among the most popular kinds of apps accessed by employees without the IT department being aware of it.

Business units and IT personnel also seem evenly split about whether or not IT policies "slow down the organization's ability to innovate, customer service, increase revenue, increase profits." Where both business units and IT agree, though--to the tune of around 44-48% of each group surveyed--is that "security, cost and compliance are significant barriers to greater technology autonomy."

As their report puts it, IT can no longer be "the department of 'no'," but it's clear that it will take cooperation from both IT and business units to make that happen.

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