There's an interesting article on CIO Insight entitled, "Google It: IT's Competitive Advantage." In it, reporter Brian Watson interviews Google CIO Ben Fried (formerly an infrastructure architect at Morgan Stanley) on his view of how IT should be run.
When viewed as an IT vendor, Google continues to make product strategy mistakes. But its internal IT strategy is spot on. Here are some quotes from the article followed by my comments.
At Morgan Stanley, we were very early customers of the Google search appliance. A lot of the young people there had their first exposure to productivity applications via Google Apps. That’s what they wanted. We gave them something else, which was more expensive and not what they wanted to deal with. It made me think: How do you deal with this, because there’s only so long you can give them the tools they don’t want and expect to get out of them everything they’re capable of.
He's right. The bottleneck is now no longer technology, but rather people. If you don't give tools to workers that they enjoy and can leverage, you're hampering their creativity and productivity. Ben goes on to say,
It’s hard for CIOs to accept that people feel strongly, passionately and personally about the technology tools they use to work. It’s almost insulting to people when they hear, “We know better than you how it’s best for you to work.” It’s tough for people who came from a generation where they weren’t empowered and technically capable of making choices.
This is definitely a generation thing. When I started in business, you were thrilled just to have access to a computer. If it was difficult to use, that was the way it was: you adjusted to the machine. These days, with machines a dime a dozen, the machine needs to adjust to you.
A common approach to driving costs out of customer support is rigid standardization—the thinking there is, we’re choosing only one tool for each job and, in so doing, we’ll make the support very easy and low cost. People have all kinds of great metrics for measuring this. But those CIOs end up getting painted into a corner. They take a standardization approach, which is ”all or nothing” for the organization and do things all one way; it may be a Socratic extreme, but it describes the philosophy by saying, “By not doing, we’ll knock costs out of the system.”
When talking to clients, I see this "we're going to standardize on one thing" strategy all the time. This made sense when the technology was expensive and complicated; however, now that people are much more tech savvy, some apps are web-based, and many apps don't break--demanding standardization to make IT's life easier is usually wrong. This is why a number of clients I talk to are looking to use more than one productivity suite. Microsoft Office will continue to have a place for power users; but many employees don't need--or get overwhelmed--by that much (relatively expensive) functionality. In this case, if a company says, "There will be two supported productivity suites: Microsoft Office and Openoffice.org"--while the support complexity will go up slightly, the licensing costs will decrease significantly. Ben goes on to say,
We try to give people some measure of choice that we can support and build an ecosystem around. We support Macintosh and two versions of Windows and Linux on the desktop. We obviously like and prefer when people use Google Apps, but we also have Microsoft Office, OpenOffice and iWork in the environment. So there’s a lot of choice, and we’ve made an investment to do this.
Read the entire interview. Ben Fried gets it.