Google CIO's IT advice: Let users pick their own hardware and software

Google CIO's IT advice: Let users pick their own hardware and software

Summary: IT departments should learn from Google's example and empower their users with equipment that "inspires them to work", the company's CIO Ben Fried told the Interop conference.


IT managers should learn from Google's experience and give users more choice over the hardware and systems they use, according to the company's CIO Ben Fried.

Ben Fried
Google CIO Ben Fried  urged IT departments to empower users. Image: Jon Yeomans

"The social contract between IT and users needs to change," Fried said in a keynote speech at Interop in New York on Wednesday. "IT's job is to empower users with the tools they need to do their job well."

Google practices what it preaches, letting employees pick which operating system they use, and giving a staff a choice over their productivity software - meaning they can opt for Microsoft Office over Google's own Apps software if they prefer.

And, with using Hangout video conferences more common among workers in the company than phone calls, desktop phones are optional and staff have to ask for one if they want one, the CIO said.

Google headcount
Google headcount

Fried advocated giving employees IT equipment in the office that can rival the consumer devices they have at home, adding that outdated kit implies a lack of respect towards staff.

"When someone brings home that corporate laptop and sets it down next to their personal computer, I want them to use the corporate laptop," he said. "I want it to be something that inspires people to work."

While companies with fewer resources than Google might baulk at the suggestion they should provide users with shiny new hardware, there could well be a payoff in reduced service desk costs, according to the CIO: "the cost of acquisition of tech is minuscule compared to the cost of support," Fried said, adding that if employees are happier with their equipment, it can lead to a "virtuous cycle" where staff rely less on IT support, driving down costs for the company.

Google's IT support costs are below industry average and have gone down proportionally even as the company's headcount has ballooned - from 284 employees in 2001 to 32,467 in 2011 - Fried said. The company's internal helpdesks, or "IT Stops", have been known to get "love letters" from staff thanking them for their help.

Fried closed his Interop speech by urging companies to think about how they can empower their users with the right IT equipment. "We've done it, I know you can too," he said.

Topics: Google, Enterprise Software

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  • Riiiiight. So all those W8 tablets and WP8 phones will get lots o love

    from googles IT. Are they going to extend this next to google devs building new public google services on azure?
    Johnny Vegas
    • ABM

      Unless it's a Microsoft application that runs on OS X, iOS, Android or Ubuntu GNU/Linux (via Wine or CrossOver for Linux of course). Like the article says, one can run Microsoft Office on their kit. Last I heard, Windows was a hard sell for Google employees desktops.

      ABO too? One wonders if there are any Google staff running Oracle's Solaris x86 on their commodity hardware desktops. One also wonders if Google staff run Oracle's proprietary Java (licensed, of course) and/or OpenJDK (note the Oracle copy-write at the bottom of the top-level page, ).
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Or Adobe creative suite on Linux

        The article is lovely, but loaded...
    • you again?

      please stop. for the love of God just stop posting here.
  • Depends on employee's

    I do have to question this in the big picture sense. In my mind Google has hired some of the smartest and computer literate people out there and most probably grew up with technology. I am dealing with 250 people of which some this is the first time they have used a computer, or still can’t get the concept of what FTP is even thou they use it every day for 5 years. Some of the people here in their late 50’s are just blow away when I show them how they don’t have to use the Dos prompt to copy files.
  • Not globally applicable

    The amount of control IT service desks need to exert on the selection of devices users bring to them depends on the type of support provided, configuration and user expertise. For example, in true cloud environment, the local OS is not very relevant since the user receives uniform remote desktop.
    • Which OS runs the virtualized desktop?

      The server staff's new responsibilities as morphed desktop techs will not be well-received in the end...
  • I agree with Google

    I am an IT Manager and I definitely agree with Google on this one. And no, not everyone is going to know exactly what they want, but sit down and discuss it with them and you can work with them to get what will allow them to be the most productive.
    • It Depends...

      My environment is 250,000 desktops nationwide and a national service desk to support over 2,000 different applications on them; several custom in-house apps, some absolutely mission critical and a very large number that are regulatory. Users are generally non-technical and their jobs all relate to health care, not computers or computer-related products, as Google's users are. Our users freak out if an icon changes appearance or location. A standard range of hardware and standardized, locked down Windows OS builds are the rule of the day. But for some enterprises, I can see where letting users make some decisions about their choice of work tools would be empowering.
      • I've got to agree with this one

        Our environment is about 7500 employees, mostly engineers and scientists. Many of them are brilliant, but don't have the first idea about what computer they should have. We work very hard to make sure they have the right hardware for what they do, and that all the software components they need are available and work together. As attractive as BYOD seems, Ican't see how this would work for these employees.