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IT Gets Personal – The Web is My IT

by guest blogger Jonathan Christensen

IT budgets are not going to disappear anytime time soon. But the long-term trend towards personalized information technology is making some “IT owned” enterprise applications less relevant every day.

Over the last 20 years, computers have taken a path towards personalization. In the beginning, there was the corporate mainframe. Later, there were divisional mini computers. Remember the DEC in that glass enclosed room or the Wang in the closet. The first PCs on desks within the enterprise were not purchased by IT. In the mid ‘80s, they came in through “the side door” for users of special finance (Lotus 123) or design (Illustrator or Quark) applications.

Today, most corporate employees are force-fed those grey and black IT-approved boxes which are then upgraded on a frustratingly slow three-year cycle. It is true. Many of us have few choices when it comes to the hardware, OS, and office suite we use.

But, we have more freedom when it comes to the applications we download and run. I use Skype for *all* of my telephony that is not mobile. I use Google Reader as an info clipping service. I use Gmail to manage my online subscriptions and travel arrangements. I use Twitter to stay up to date. With the myriad of great choices available, users are finding ways to make “personal technology” work for them. None of these are IT-sanctioned applications, but they are enormously helpful in my work (and personal) life… and I am saving my company real money on telecom and infrastructure costs.

Slowly, this shift is happening at the hardware level too. Our machines are reflections of our personal styles and tastes. At Skype, we are in two camps: the Lenovo loyalist and the Mac fan club. Apple has a reputation for inspiring fanatical loyalty, but ThinkPad users are every bit as rabid as the MacBook fans. They know every model number past and present. They reminisce about great machines they have retired and passionately compare notes about DIMMs, hard drives and battery configurations (I carry a MacBook Air – and thank goodness that Apple makes these decisions for me).

When I go to technology conferences where CTOs and technology architects gather, I am surprised at the proportion of Macs walking around. Apple is making a big comeback and these new Apple purchases are not limited to “consumers.” Still, when you mention the Mac to most IT managers, you will likely get a blank stare back from them. The term “Unsupported Platform” comes to mind. Regardless, many users are choosing Macs for work and they are finding that with a few tweaks they can coexist with the IT infrastructure. This is another sign that the IT applications, once locked into the Windows environment, are becoming more flexible. As more applications move to Web-based implementations, much of this “interoperability” is happening at the browser level – and this is more good news for Apple, Firefox and, ultimately, users.

The long-term effect when users migrate to personal technology is that the IT-approved applications slowly lose traction. I use Safari on my Mac and Firefox when I need to use Windows. I access company email with Safari via Outlook Web Access. I don’t need Vista or Outlook to stay connected. In this mode, Exchange has become less sticky. Every week, I am spending less time on email and more time on Skype. I am having faster, more iterative conversations and getting more done in an increasingly collaborative style. Email seems clunky and unresponsive now. I have also noticed that my Inbox contains more machine-generated content (e.g., SAP updates, access approvals, system notifications, finance reports) and less real human conversations. As an IT driven application, Exchange traffic is getting “dusty.” The real action is happening elsewhere.

userpic-32-100x100 Jonathan Christensen has more than 15 years of experience shaping strategy for the growth of IP communications in start-ups and world class organizations such as Skype, Microsoft, and Time Warner.

In 2005, Jonathan co-founded Camino Networks where he was CEO until it was acquired by Skype. He is currently a senior member of the Skype team leading core technology development for audio and video, as well as initiatives for voice quality, network interconnect, and business adoption.

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