Techno populists come to power at Unilever, GE…and in your company ?

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I discovered the term “techno-populist” while reading this businessweek article. This expression, originally due to Forrester, designates people who flout their company’s IT policies in order to use in their professional lives the tools they use in their private life.

Wendy wakes joined Unilever when she was 27. Within the marketing department she quickly experienced the consequences of a very strict IT policy. And the young recruits she works with finds it even harder. As Business week writes, for people born after 1985, the discovering of the corporate world is a real technological shock. Unlike what our generation experienced when the enterprise was a kind of eldorado where we could use state of the art tools and computers we could not have even dreamt of, we have to recognize that the corporate world looks rather like Jurassic Park compared to what I can use in my private life (globally speaking, because I’m very happy with what my company provides me).

The you woman didn’t give up and wrote to her CIO, explaining to which extent people may be more efficient with general public, less prehistoric, and free tools. Six months later she was offered a new job : spreading the use of these tools within unilever.

Unilever now wishes to give its employees more “digital freedom”, allow connection from outside the firewall, use their own PCs provided some security rules are respected. With an identified goal : an increase in productivity and lower costs. Even when they’re not free, the tools in question have pricing models that have nothing to do with what companies have used to know till now.

Of course not everybody is convinced and the CIO has to face some scepticism, but, as he says, restisting to economic and social forces which are at now at work is vain.

In some ways it’s very close to what I recently wrote about twitter a few weeks ago. We can think what we want about it, say that regarding the past “it’s not possible”. Yet trends are there and the phenomenon isn’t limited to a few early adopters anymore, it’s now about traditionnal blue chips that never sacrified profitability for fads.

There’s in the “my company on Facebook” approach something that disturbs me. May be I’m too old school but I find it irrelevant to publish any business related datas on a platform which business model is to monetize datas and member’s profiles, and has not a very reassuring data ownership policy. By the way the same can apply to Google.

Beyond tools I focus on the social pressure and the ground swell effet : it’s not about vendors but about new logics that have to be understood and assimilitated in order that in the next years your company won’t look like New Orleans and it’s papier mâché sea walls when came the perfect storm. When it’s impossible to resist, being able to harness is key : it’s what Unilever is doing, but also General Electric.

By the way, GE prefered to deal with a “real” vendor, Zoho, perhaps because of the reserve one can have toward Google or Facebook. Whatever, GE’s following the same path. Whatever, applications are really leaving our computers to be more and more online. And GE really understood what “agile information” meant : a new version of their “central support” is now delivered every two weekks. This is the death of projects which needed two years in order to emerge : they deliver a basis they improve endlessly according to feedbacks, needs, experience. This takes us back to this interesting survey on value creation by IT depts.

Here is the final question everyone has to ask to himself : do we still need to wonder if we have to allow new tools within the workspace, to allow new practices to emerge, which are very difficult to visualize according to what’s existing tody, or do we have to cast on a near future when, inevitably, work tools will look like what I mentioned above and ask ourselves how to take the most of it, how to improbe our business practices (and the way we consider work should be) consequently.