Technology Libertarianism: The Hands-Off Approach To IT That Fuels Technology Populism

One of the themes of my research has been how information worker adoption of technology in general, and collaboration technology specifically, affects IT decision-making. Inevitably, this has led me down the path of studying the phenomenon of rank-and-file employees provisioning their own technology outside the auspices of IT – a phenomenon Forrester labels Technology Populism (though I won’t kick if you want to call it “consumerization of IT”). Very shortly, I’ll be publishing a report that shows not only is Technology Populism a reality, but that it is affecting how technology is officially adopted by businesses. What our data shows is that sizable portions of the information workforce played a role in the selection of their desktop computer (13%), laptop computer (33%) and smartphones (66%). This got me thinking about what this means for technology decision-making in business.

We at Forrester often talk about the transition of IT to BT (Business Technology) – which is our shorthand for talking about lines of business taking a central role in the selection and management of technology. It reflects a need for technology decisions to be oriented toward business outcomes and for business leaders to have greater say in picking the tools their employees use. But this is still a high-level story: it is a tale of executives picking technology for the end user. Technology Populism is specifically about end users taking on this role; and that businesses are seeing benefits (re: cost savings) in allowing this suggests that there may be another concept here beyond IT to BT.

For some hardware and software (as we see end users using SaaS and downloading applications), it appears that businesses are adopting a hands-off approach, something I’m inclined to call “Technology Libertarianism” (to continue the political philosophy theme). As this attitude seems to track with how mobile the workforce is, I think we’re seeing some companies take the approach, “If it doesn’t touch my network that often, it’s not something I need standardized, and I’m not required by law to control it, use what you would like.”

To me, Technology Libertarianism is what actually makes Technology Populism a compelling, and worrisome, story for product marketers and managers. Why? Because it suggests that the homogeneity that was the design point of for IT buyers – and the vendors who sold to them – is giving way to a heterogeneous world driven by the whims of a diverse workforce. It creates a new competition at a much lower level of a company that many vendors who have developed an affinity for high level sales aren’t prepared to fight.

That said, these are just my quick thoughts. What is your thinking?


The analogy that comes to

The analogy that comes to mind: Vendors have been selling cars to corporate fleet managers, and the selling points were mileage, warranties, and residual value. Now, many of them need to sell to consumers -- and talk about design, user experience, and emotion. That's a huge switch with a lot of room for error.

Enterprise User Experience

This is another call for a managed approach to the user experience design activities in the Enterprise. Don't ask your users what they want, but observe them doing their work, and design solutions that meet/exceed their needs. If they want iPhones (sure they want), look if this makes sense for their work, and provide something useful on the device.

Without such an activity, you'll not only risk security and manageability, but also have a bunch of useless and hard to use applications on a variety of platforms, instead of first thinking what is going to be needed and used.

Don't just allow it; design it.