IT Strategy and the Creative Class

By Frank Buytendijk

Some call them “knowledge workers”; Richard Florida famously called them the “creative class.” Regardless of what you call them, a greater percentage than ever before are working off-site, not working 9-to-5 hours, and are participating in virtual global teams. And as this trend picks up steam, the changes in how we work—and manage our work—will go from evolutionary to revolutionary.

Somehow, observations like these always seem to lead to discussions of “Everything 2.0.” But although wikis, blogs, and the host of other technologies that are part of the Enterprise 2.0 platform are certainly useful, CIOs and IT strategists should realize that the challenges of servicing the creative class do not stop with an Enterprise 2.0 strategy but rather impact the enterprise’s whole IT strategy on at least four levels: hardware, security, business applications, and business intelligence.

Hardware. A modern IT strategy should follow a BYOH, or “bring your own hardware” policy. If all corporate systems are Web-based, support for BYOH should not be a major issue. Regardless of your choice of desktop computing platform, a secure virtual private network should turn any laptop into a work laptop. Today, workers require access to corporate data on a variety of devices, and instead of standard equipment, knowledge workers should have a productivity budget to spend on the hardware they like. And IT architectures should be open to accommodate them.

Security. If IT lacks the resources to build and support functionality the workforce needs, users should be able to create their own mashups and tools to get the job done. This means that IT security policy must be both dependable and flexible enough to protect all points of data entry. Instead of being a barrier to creativity, IT security should set the guidelines within which workers can succeed.

Business applications. A workforce revolution is going on within traditional business applications. Historically, the implementation of an enterprise resource planning system, a customer relationship management package, or any other business application focused on establishing a certain process. When that process changed—which could be as often as once a year—that necessitated an updated implementation and software upgrade. However, modern business processes run by knowledge workers can be more agile. The job of defining and implementing processes becomes the task of the knowledge worker; the job of providing the infrastructure and components is the task of the IT department. Processes can be composed, decomposed, and recomposed, based on new insights and opportunities, within the same implementation.

Business intelligence. Knowledge workers traditionally have had access to all kinds of business data to help them present their managers with more-informed and more-analytical options. But knowledge workers cannot have exclusive access to this information, as has too often been the case. Business intelligence must become more accessible and transparent to the operational side of the organization.

The new organization. If you ask a person to describe an organization, he or she will usually show you the org chart. But the org chart no longer represents the way in which the modern enterprise works. Today, improving business performance is based on doing the right cross-functional projects, collaborating on initiatives with stakeholders outside the company walls, and activating informal networks. Your IT strategy must reflect that new reality.

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