Technical Populism

Technical Populism

Many of you experience the desire daily to become a Technical Populist – you know, someone who knows that using certain tools or technologies at work among the Borg are verboten, but does so anyway, because it makes your life and job easier than arbitrary rules set up by your company to try and establish a sense of control and containment among the ranks.

Technical Populism is completely understandable.  We all desire to be able to do what we want, when we want, using what we want.  Having your employer tell you what you can and can’t do through the firewall is just another way for “The Man” to keep you down, right?

Let’s face it – today’s ubiquitous PC in the workplace is largely because of the Technical Populists of the 1980s who refused to be satisfied with the months long delays in getting to their data because of the dictums from the guys in the air-conditioned, raised floor data centers in the basement.

Without those early adopters, peer-to-peer networks never would have found their way into corporate America and we’d still be talking SNA rather than TCP/IP.

However – and this is a big however – there are hard and fast limits as to when and where corporate firewalls and limits need to be heeded, because the consequences of not doing so are very punitive and socially irresponsible.

For example, if you work at a health care enterprise housing and dealing with patient data, you are NEVER to leave the premises with patient data, by statute (HIPAA).  Failing to do so carries civil penalties and is ethically irresponsible.  That far outweighs your desire to “conveniently” sneak a thumb drive to work because it’s easier to copy files that way.

Likewise, if you deal with personal data like Social Security numbers, you should never copy them to any portable device that is not secured to the nines.  Yet, every few months one reads of government agencies and private companies where laptops go missing or stolen containing hundreds and thousands of social security numbers, bank accounts, PINs, other other damaging identifaction artifacts because of lax – or worse, ignored – policies and procedures.

Look – no one is more frustrated than I when I see a department within a large concern being held back from doing their job or getting to their data because of someone building a little empire or withholding the tech goodies simply because they can.  It is maddening to see employees resorting to above the flow means (such as Excel Spreadsheets, Visio Drawings, or Word Documents) to circumvent the inadequacies of corporate online systems because the online systems are not responsive to their needs and keep them from getting their jobs done.  I get it.

I deplore it because of the duplication of effort and overall drain on what everyone is trying to accomplish – but I absolutely get it.

In fact, my life as an independent consultant and contractor depend upon it – but that’s a different post for a different day.

From an IT management perspective dealing with Technical Populism is a lot like parenting a teenager – you know certain behaviors are going to happen, because long term consequences are downplayed in favor of instant gratification.  It’s your job to instruct and educate your technical populists on the valid business, statutory, and ethical reasons behind your corporate policies and infrastructure decisions.  This is not 1950 – if you don’t try and have this dialog with your tech savvy peers, they’ll simply go somewhere more conducive to their talents.

And for you would be tech rebels out there – it is your responsibility to insure that you are not putting yourself and the people who put food on your table into legal jeopardy because you don’t feel like adhering to a policy that seems stupid to you, but maybe took a team of people many months and man hours to negotiate and settle upon.

Believe it or not, most companies want to do the right thing with their stewardship of infrastructure, resources, and policies.

In honesty, I can’t believe I’m even writing this post.  I left corporate America many years ago because I realized that constitutionally I am just not a great employee and focus more on results rather than the Kabuki Theatre that working in a larger setting requires everyone to play within.

But I have seen first hand the harm that neglecting hard won and carefully considered network and computing policies can cause.

Technical Populism can move the ball down the field with regard to introducing new concepts (such as Social Networking and Blogging) into the rigid confines of enterprise computing, and can inject new life into organizations listening to their own echoes.

But it needs to be done responsibly, ethically, and with an eye on the overall good of the company – and not simply the personal convenience of the individual employee.

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