IT departments are not leading innovation in firms

An article in The Economist’s December 23, 2006 holiday double issue caught my attention. It reported on how Arizona State University was converting their email system over to use Google’s free hosted service, under the “Google Apps for your Domain” offering that I blogged about back in August last year. I’m still using the service for my @neilmcintyre.ca email and it works great.

Unlike the university’s old system, which stores emails [sic] on its own server computers, the new accounts reside on Gmail, Google’s free web-based service. [The IT department at ASU] is not forcing anybody to change but has found that the students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private email, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 per hour.

Unfortunately since The Economist protects its online content and I’m not a subscriber, I don’t have access to the online version of the story and cannot link to it in its entirety. Shame.

[The new head of IT at ASU] is ahead of his time because most IT bosses tend to be skeptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in turn, tend to ignore their IT departments.

That passage really resonated with me. I think accounting firms have the most extreme cases of this happening since so many employees of firms are young like me and have used these technologies since early high school. I know more of my peers at work with banned software on their computers than I know without.

But as long as IT departments are so out of touch with their own area of expertise, it will continue. Just last week our IT department sent out an email with this gem: “Windows XP is extremely stable…”

I can’t figure out whether they were trying to put on a strong face about our critical IT infrastructure, or whether they actually believed the fiction that Microsoft products resemble anything close to stable.

There are myriad free tools available to improve productivity in corporations. Accounting firms should lead the charge given that auditors are most often out of the office at client sites where IT resources are varied and usually inadequate for our needs.

Tools like Basecamp for organizing and collaborating with audit team members, IM using Google Talk or MSN, and web-based email such as Gmail which integrates smart calendaring and the aforementioned IM, would lead to massive productivity gains. Security is the only issue at this point, but with the right approach to mitigating the risks, it can be done, and it can be done now, rather than years from now.

3 replies on “IT departments are not leading innovation in firms”

  1. I’d like to refute your assertion by presenting my work’s IT dept as an example of a group that gets things done right.

    I suppose it helps if you know some people who work there personally who can tip you off to various things in advance. I just got some sweet upgrades today to make things work better. I’m happy. :)

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