posted 30 Nov 2009 in Volume 13 Issue 3
Analysis: Q&A: Technology democracy
Before the arrival of the internet, IT was firmly in control of technology. Rik Ferguson speaks to Kate Clifton about the shift to 'technology democracy', which has been brought about by the introduction of social networking tools and personal devices.
Trend Micro recently sponsored research into this area by The Economist – what were you looking for?
It was interesting for us to look at two perspectives: business executives’ views on how technology is changing and the end users’ desire for certain types of technology. Also, how what we would call the ‘newer’, web-based technology is being implemented in the enterprise – and what challenges this brings. As the workforce changes over time, the people who move into employment (and eventually management) will be those who have grown up using online collaboration tools and social software. They will be familiar with carrying information around on portable devices and will have different opinions to those making strategic decisions now. We wanted to see where that was going.
Tell us more about ‘technology democracy’.
It’s a term that The Economist came up with. The report talks about technology democracy in the workplace – meaning that staff have more control over their technology choices – whether by using their own laptops and USB devices or working with social networking tools. It’s about moving technological decision making away from a centralised function, to a more distributed model.
This must carry an element of risk?
Yes. Productivity, loss of information and the threat of malware were the biggest risks [from a management point of view] that we encountered during the research.
Did any of the findings surprise you?
Even though we spoke to a wide range of executives, they were still split down the middle when it came to recognising risk over benefit – and vice versa. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the more established management figures were ‘against’ technology democracy. This was surprising because, as we get older, we become more risk averse, so I expected the results to be skewed in that direction.
Any other themes
A lack of preparation for training. It’s a cornerstone of security in general – if you want people to act in away that is in accordance with your security policy then you need to educate them. While many respondents saw the risks, only around 12 per cent had introduced any kind of training programme, which is an incredibly low figure. When you’re talking about collaboration, communication and knowledge-sharing activities, the training needs to be extremely well planned. It almost needs to ‘refresh’ on people’s mind on a daily basis – just to help build that culture of security in the workplace.
But businesses seem more aware of the benefits and risks associated with these types of technology, and are using them more.
People are aware of the benefits and the risks but they don’t seem to be prepared for something that, in a lot of cases, is already happening in their organisation. They can choose to manage, or merely cope, with this technology. So, while you’re introducing it, build your policies, plan your education and inform your users what is acceptable. Don’t ignore something that is going to become a tidal wave of technology and security issues, which you’re going to have to cope with in the end.
What other advice would you give?
One of the most important things at management level – often due to the age difference between managers and new recruits – is that those people who are in senior positions are likely to be less predisposed to using such technology. It’s important for them to spend time working with the tools and getting used to what they are capable of and how they work – you can’t build sensible policies without understanding the capabilities of the technology. Some points raised by the report illustrated this lack of familiarity and it’s an important area to get right.
Rik Ferguson is solutions architect, EMEA at Trend Micro. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the Power to the People? Managing Technology Democracy in the Workplace report by The Economist and sponsored by Trend Micro, visit http://uk.trendmicro.com