Consumerisation and the evolving service imperative
A couple of weeks ago, Google announced it would be canning its Google Reader service. Not a particularly strategic tool you might think - it simply enabled users to collate and organise feeds from news, blog and other content sites.
For those still using the product however, this is a problem. Google Reader offers a window onto the world of web content, and its removal is tantamount to walking into someone's house and removing their TV set. Or the calendar from the wall. Or, in the corporate environment, a library shelf full of books and newspapers. You get the picture.
Plenty of Google Reader users exist - as illustrated by the Change.org petition (LINK: http://www.change.org/petitions/google-keep-google...) which is currently running at nearly 150,000 responses. Clearly, if anyone thought that the reader was no longer used, a lot of people never received the memo.
Should we care? After all, Google was offering a free service and what you don't pay for, you can't complain about, right? Perhaps. Equally, surely other RSS readers exist? Indeed they do - Feedly, Bloglines and their ilk all provide similar services.
Equally, this is not just about Google Reader. Numerous applications and services have been withdrawn from use over recent years - Twitter's acquisition and subsequent end-of-life-ing of the Tweetdeck desktop app for example. And others have had functionality impaired - for example the RememberTheMilk task management application, which relied upon (now defunct) Google Gears. (LINK: http://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/googlegears/)
There's a debate to be had about whether vendors have a duty of care to users of 'free' (aka advertising-supported) products, and this is not the place for it. All the same, use of such tools continues to broaden in corporate environments. Social networks, online storage and collaboration tools, voice over IP, messaging and the like, smart devices and 'freemium' mobile apps make up an increasing part of the average employee's technology toolkit.
Yes, sometimes, a personal email account may be used to send a file which is too big for the corporate system to handle. Or it may be well known that the best way of getting hold of a busy executive is via Twitter - his/her phone always goes to voicemail.
We can, equally, debate the meaning of the term 'consumerisation'. From the IT department's perspective, use of non-corporate kit and online services is something to either be embraced or avoided, depending on who you ask. For sure, helpdesk staff bear the brunt - inundated with calls about how so-and-so device can't connect to the board room projector via Bluetooth.
Beyond all such debates lies both an opportunity and a growing risk. To take a specific example, nurses working on wards now have access to simple, cheap mobile apps which can help them do their daily jobs. Sometimes these cost a nominal sum of money, sometimes they don't. But the apps are useful, and the nurses are using them to the benefit of patients. Should such behaviour be prevented?
If corporate IT has achieved anything over the years it has - like all good bureaucracies - delivered a level of continuity and stability of service for its users. Whatever the potential of our increasingly fragmented, cloud-based and mobile IT landscape, businesses and public bodies cannot build themselves on technological sand.
It is for this reason that IT departments will always have a role, wherever technology resides and however it is delivered. As examples such as Google Reader illustrate, users of many free services have little recourse should they be withdrawn. We need our in-house specialists to triage both services and service providers, and as a result, deliver the capabilities we need to do our jobs. But we also need them to work directly with front-line users, rather than acting as a bottleneck.
Technology is not going to get any simpler. But recognising IT's vital role - as keepers of the keys of service delivery - offers both a starting point and a route through what is an increasingly complex landscape.