IT Gets Personal: Jonathan Christensen’s Personal Experience

Our choice of PC’s and the associated applications are becoming a factor in the definition of our personality:: Windows or Mac? IBM or Dell? Our smartphone choices are becoming a factor in the definition of our personality. Blackberry, iPhone or, Nokia?

But just as important is how these associations are also playing a role in how IT departments are losing control over our IT platforms. I recall a story when the first IBM PC’s came out where a major Canadian bank Vice-President chastised an employee for having a modem connection — insecurity written all over his face and the modem ordered removed! My first cell phone required both a rather large handset device that was screwed into my dashboard and connected to a black box stored in the luggage compartment of my station wagon. And those external cell phone aerials attached to a rear window were a status symbol that you were “connected” anytime, anywhere. But the employer would usually define what you would have (@$3,600 for my first cell phone in 1986, you bet!). CFO’s wrestled with the expense, wondering why anyone would want to talk while driving.

Jonathan Christensen, Skype’s GM for Audio and Video, in two recent guest posts on Saunderslog.com talks about how IT is becoming personal. In the first post he talks about how “The Web is My IT”

But, we have more freedom when it comes to the applications we download and run. I use Skype for *all* of my telephony that is not mobile. I use Google Reader as an info clipping service. I use Gmail to manage my online subscriptions and travel arrangements. I use Twitter to stay up to date. With the myriad of great choices available, users are finding ways to make “personal technology” work for them. None of these are IT-sanctioned applications, but they are enormously helpful in my work (and personal) life… and I am saving my company real money on telecom and infrastructure costs.

Slowly, this shift is happening at the hardware level too. Our machines are reflections of our personal styles and tastes. At Skype, we are in two camps: the Lenovo loyalist and the Mac fan club. Apple has a reputation for inspiring fanatical loyalty, but ThinkPad users are every bit as rabid as the MacBook fans. They know every model number past and present. They reminisce about great machines they have retired and passionately compare notes about DIMMs, hard drives and battery configurations (I carry a MacBook Air – and thank goodness that Apple makes these decisions for me).

He starts off his concluding paragraph with “The long-term effect when users migrate to personal technology is that the IT-approved applications slowly lose traction.” Coming from a former employee of Microsoft whose revenue depends highly on IT-sponsored implementations of its server-based applications, it’s a powerful statement with lots of implications for the challenges ahead at Microsoft.

In his second post “IT Gets Personal – Mobility and the Desktop”, Jonathan talks about how, while Blackberry, with its Blackberry Enterprise Server, still controls authentication and authorization policies, RIM is broadening its market approach to encompass the prosumer and even consumers. He talks about the iPhone “thumbing its nose at IT managers”:

However, aside from the Blackberry/Exchange relationship, the IT department has had little to do with our mobile technology choices. My mobile is MY business, thank you. I use it primarily for work, but it is not an IT-approved device. Oh, by the way, thanks for picking up the airtime charges.

Certainly a noticeable trend lately is how, when someone leaves an employer, the two constant in his/her contact information is the mobile phone number and, if they have one, the SkypeID.

Jonathan goes on to talk about the decreasing role of the PBX, becoming identified with your personal mobile number and the adoption of desktop communications applications in the workplace, especially IM.

There is more rich interaction in these sessions. People are sending links, copying and pasting text and sharing files in real time. Today’s knowledge worker roams seamlessly between Mobile calls, SMS, IM, Blackberry email and PC calling. Nearly 30 percent of Skype users are using it for business and 28 percent of Skype-to-Skype calls include video. The old desktop phone just can’t keep up.

His bottom line:

Users are taking control of their communications channels. They are innovating, making personal mashups with the new tools, and they are creating a new namespace to go with it (e.g., Gmail address + Mobile phone number + Twitter ID + Skype ID). And all of this is happening outside the IT department’s “walled garden.” It’s good news for users and productivity, but what does this loss of control mean for the IT department and the organization? What does it mean for PBX vendors? And, if the users are happy, does it really matter?

Interesting perspectives from someone who has been integrally involved with the rise of IP-based communications and the extension of voice messaging to incorporate text chat, video and mobility over the past one-and-a-half decades.

The PC is transitioning to the lightweight laptop (many of my acquaintances have a MacBook Air); smartphones fit in the shirt pocket or purse or hang from a belt clip. The IT department is becoming more ethereal as in “figures light and aeriform come unlooked for and melt away”. Both posts (once again here and here) are well worth the read.

(And did anyone notice that, while RIM tried to distinguish consumer and business markets by having a camera in the Pearl and Curve but not in the 88×0 series, the about-to-be-released Blackberry Bold has everything – camera, new media player with iTunes support, GPS: all-in-one – and addresses both markets.)

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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