Your own, personal IT manager

Staff deciding what technology they should be using doesn't have to be a management nightmare

Despite the freedom gifted to staff in some areas, when it comes to buying and managing the bulk of their technology, companies stick to a script. Employees should use company software, installed on company desktops that sit on company desks. Applications are to be bought wholesale from established vendors or developed in-house with the help of kindly services companies. Then the whole thing is ring-fenced by some stringent security policy and legal disclaimers about improper use. Neat, tidy, safe and secure. In theory.

But things are changing. In its predictions for 2006 released this week, analyst Gartner claims that IT managers need to get to grips with disruptive consumer technology such as the Xbox to more fully understand the tech challenges that lie ahead. If the line between work and home is becoming increasingly vague then so is the separation between consumer and business technology. Rather than getting hung up on the security or intellectual property issues, businesses should embrace this shift and realise its plus points.

Employees using their own technology for work is not a new concept: this has been the catalyst for change many times before. What is new is the idea that companies should encourage and even reward the process.

Start by finding out what employees are really using to do their job day to day. It might save you money straight away — the small fortune spent on Microsoft Office licences may look even less appealing if the bulk of your 'office productivity' is actually being carried out over Google Mail or Yahoo's IM client.

Obviously, a fragmented system has the potential to be more insecure and this requires better management. However if the IT department is no longer spending time on managing massive licensing deals with software vendors or training reluctant staff on cumbersome applications, there is more time to concentrate on fundamentals such as protecting company data and infrastructure.

Unless you're planning a shift back to a mainframe/terminal model or maybe severing your Internet connection, employees will continue to use the best tools available to them and increasingly they may not be ones they have been mandated to use. It's better to be with them, than against.