The verdict is in: 'rogue' IT is cool

Let a thousand SOA services bloom
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

"Empower the mavericks, turn them into sensory receptors and change agents for the business, and let them know that the leaders are listening." -Marc Rix

We like a bit of rogue in our entertainment figures. We root for the anti-hero who bends and breaks rules -- and defies the bureaucratic order -- to achieve the greater good. 24's Jack Bauer never followed a protocol he didn't like in ridding LA of the latest threat. (Perhaps Chloe O'Brien would be a better example within an IT context.)

Perhaps that admiration for rogue extends to IT as well. My recent post on whether "rogue IT" and "rogue services" should be contained generated some interesting discussion, and it seems the consensus out there is that a little rogue IT (or services) isn't just something to be tolerated; it's actually a positive force.

As part of their SOA initiatives, some companies have taken painstaking efforts to establish rigorous vetting of services and applications to ward off rogue elements that may overburden systems. But many readers feel that a little rogue IT is fine, and that it's even necessary for innovation.

About 93 of you completed the poll that went with the post. A majority, 60%, said sometimes rogue is okay -- enterprise architecture is important, but end-users should also have some latitude to run with their own services.  In second place at 22% was the feeling of why fight it? Let a thousand services bloom. Only 18% felt enterprises should do all they can to clamp down on "unofficial" applications or services.

One reader, Dr Zinj, observed that "top-down implementation of anything will always fail to meet the needs of the bottom level. The trick is to give the users free rein on their work; and supply them with advice and mentoring to help them with parts that wouldn't occur to them. It's like teaching a kid to drive. They take the driver's seat, and you supply the advice and suggestions from the passenger side while sweating bullets in the process. Nothing worthwhile was ever easy."

Another reader, No_Ax_to_Grind, said there's usually a good reason for rogue IT. "Anyone old enough to remember when PCs started showing up in the workplace (often paid for by the person using them) will also remember the reason for it was that 'IT' simply took to long to do anything."

Today, there's too much going on, too many users, for IT or the enterprise to be able to watch everything that moves. No_Ax observes that in situations where companies have locked down PCs, for example, users "simply move to a second PC or other device, often taking valuable information with them."

In a new post at his blogsite, Marc Rix also argues that IT should not only allow rogue IT, "but encourage and reward it." Why? Because businesses "behave much more like living organisms than machines and are constantly influenced by forces beyond anyone's direct control." In the natural world, organisms have "constituent parts to rapidly self-organize in the face of some external threat." The only way to quickly detect and react to threats is to give these constituent parts the ability to react independently of the central brain. 

Rix concludes that rogue initiatives are "healthy, natural processes that foster a spirit of constant experimentation and reinvention within our businesses, which is crucial for building agility. Sometimes the results of this experimentation will be beneficial, sometimes not, which is why governance models should incorporate feedback mechanisms to discover and evaluate the 'fitness' of innovations that flow from the bottom up."

There you have it. Let a thousand services bloom. From a business perspective, the companies that really make a difference are those that encourage entrepreneurial cultures among their workforces, and reward innovative thinking. Google, for example, tells its employees that they can run with any idea, as long as they can come up with the numbers to back it up.

Likewise, an enterprise that encourages innovative thinking around technology approaches, and stays out of the way when users move these ideas forward, will see greater cost savings, and ultimately, competitive advantage. Competitive advantage comes from the ability to do things quicker and cheaper than a competitor. Despite what Nick Carr says, technology is a powerful lever to achieve this. Users at the front lines know what it takes to increase productivity and agility, and this is the font from which innovation will spring -- every time.

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