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

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giving employees IT equipment in the office that can rival the consumer devices they have at home, adding that outdated kit implies a lack of respect towards staff.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

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