Last week, Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, published an intriguing piece called IT Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Its Users on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. The blog has justifiably garnered a lot of attention, partially because he so succinctly outlined the factors leading to today’s IT paradigm shift:

New workers. New devices. No more servers. Usually a single inflection point is hard to grapple with. Today’s enterprises have three.

“Start looking at users’ needs first”

Aaron goes on to describe the change in thinking required in order for CIOs to enable their employees in this new era:

Instead of looking at the world as a series of systems, networks, and data schemas from an enterprise top-down view, start looking at the users’ needs first and expand outward from there.

Well said. I particularly like the approach Aaron cites from Ralph Loura, CIO of Clorox.

Ralph Lora, riffing off the antagonistic concept of “shadow IT”, has implemented an approach he calls “Shallow IT.” This allows for the wide testing and nurturing of consumer-grade and adopted solutions in the enterprise, done in a calculated but flexible way, proving out all new enterprise apps to help power the $5.5B company.

“Shallow IT”, not Shadow IT

In Ralph’s approach of “Shallow IT”, he affords his employees the liberty to experiment, to explore, to try new services. When they have made their choice, his team enables the rest of the employee population by taking those self-selected (as opposed to IT provided) services and going “deep” by integrating them with their enterprise systems, such as single sign-on.

This is also the approach that similarly progressive CIOs like Rebecca Jacoby of Cisco, Brian Lillie of Equinix, and Michael Keithley of CAA take where they detect when the use of a cloud service reaches a tipping point indicating employee need and interest in using that service, at which time they enable their employee population (their customers really) by contracting with the service provider and promoting that service to the wider employee population.

IT as an enabler (the good kind)

This type of approach takes the IT organization from being considered an inhibitor to one of a true partner. Mind you I don’t expect that the IT organization will blindly enable all cloud services because some services are not enterprise-ready or are otherwise high risk.

However by getting the pulse of employee need and gaining access to a wide repository of finely categorized cloud apps and deep insight into the enterprise-readiness of each of the cloud apps, they can assume a data-driven, consultative role with the employees and address the seemingly conflicting needs of enabling employee productivity while maintaining data security, compliance, and governance.

In fact, IT needs to move from a terminology of “control” and “provide” to one of “enable”.