LunchladyThere  has been a lot written about “IT Democratization” and how it will change the world. To some extent that is true, and I’ve previously encouraged IT management to support the process. But listening to those who see a “Bright new future” makes me realize that while we agree in principal, as always, the devil is in the details. In high school, we could take the standard lunch for a set fee or eat ala-carte’, which was essentially a short-order grill. Others could bring their own lunch, whatever they (or their parents) could pack into a bag or box.

In the case of ala carte’, the school had to plan ahead, make facilities ready, and be prepared to serve up quality food at affordable prices that would meet the whims of hundreds of high-school kids on any given day. A work of art that surely deserved more recognition than we gave it. In the case of bag lunches, well, the school provided nothing but tables. If the food was bad, ill-prepared, not suitable for human consumption, or otherwise not correct, this was not the school’s problem in any way.

The thing is that it was far easier for the school to eliminate all responsibility for the food and let children bring their own, no need to maintain the kitchens, stock food, suffer safety inspections, etc. The flip side of that is of course that the school has no ability to insure the quality of the food being consumed either. Ala-Carte’ was the best solution. Children got a choice, but the school got some say in what was prepared. It was not “that piece of salami that sat out all day Sunday for uncle Herb’s party” slapped into a sandwich.

And IT needs to come to the same realization… And guide business to that realization. Accepting connections from a variety of devices, even customizing content to meet the needs of some devices is fine, but removing all constraints makes security and quality assurance nearly impossible. There are some great tools out there – like our BIG-IP Access Policy Manager that will help your systems support a growing array of products, but you will still have to do the testing. Or customers/employees will, if your organization is of that mindset. And even then, these devices do not support every possible combination or do anything to insure the user experience is better than those bag lunches some people brought to school.

The key here, is that IT Democratization cannot become a call to a chaotic “bring whatever you have” bag-lunch style arrangement, simply because what is being consumed is company property on company servers, and what stands to be wasted is company resources. You need to approach the problem from “we need to expand support, what can we offer” not either of the two extremes that seem prevalent at the moment. Of course users will push for more, that’s part of what they do. But IT is responsible for security and usability of IT systems, so there has to be an acknowledgement of user desires meeting with the requirements of corporate data and systems needs.

And you have to drive that conversation. Certainly IT management, but anyone in IT that deals regularly with the rest of the company needs to reiterate the same thing… That IT wants to meet the needs of the organization, and user desires are certainly part of that, but security and usability require that the roll-out be controlled, so users need to prioritize what devices are most important to them to guide IT in its implementations. And IT needs to do the research. There is a growing industry offering all sorts of solutions for right-sizing content, along with the industry to extend enterprise-grade security to portable devices, and even specialized acceleration tools for low bandwidth devices. You just have to find the tools that best suit your needs and use them to enable users.

Is it possible that all of this is a fad? Yes possible, but not likely. The first thing everyone does on new gadgets is games, so there are a lot of people out there saying they game on their iPad and work on their laptop, but not everyone is saying that. We have three tablet PCs (Samsung and two RIM), and mostly we game on them at the moment, but we also work from them when our situation makes that more convenient than one of the many laptops strategically placed about the house. No doubt the ratio will tip as time goes on, and some are already talking about ditching their laptops.

So enable, but use the fact that you’re enabling to control the flood. Each new gadget that comes out does not need IT support. Some do, some don’t. Make certain your users know you are there to support them, but doing so in the manner that will work best for the organization.

And if you don’t have some form of tablet PC yet, play with one. Seriously. They’re a different experience, and you’ll understand why your users want support for them yesterday.