Augmented Capabilities

Until recently, I was the IT Manager at a small business, which was a subsidiary of a much larger company. My “management” authority didn’t extend beyond the subsidiary– in the eyes of the parent company I was a “local IT liaison”, an extension of their help desk operation, there to make sure users had the tech support they needed, and keep an eye on things like inventory and swap out the backup tapes every week.

One of the last arguments I got into with the parent company was over systems for sending bulk email– I was advocating one solution, while corporate wanted us to stick to their preferred vendor. I believe I made a pretty compelling case, but the word back from HQ was: “if it’s good enough for us, it’s good enough for you”.

I’ve decided that “If it’s good enough for X, it’s good enough for you” nicely sum up my adventures in corporate IT.

Smart Drugs and Augmented Capabilities

I’ve long been enamored with the idea of “smart drugs”–  that someday, we’ll be able to walk into a drug store and pick up over-the-counter enhancements: like a pill that improves memory, or focus, or that temporarily increases your problem-solving skills.

We might not be that far away. The ubiquity of things like 5 Hour Energy and Red Bull, (and the recent rise of “relaxation drinks”) are steps in that direction.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the “smart drug” dream has been realized through software.  I’ve never been good at managing all the tasks and projects on my plate. OmniFocus has turned out to be just the crutch my brain needs. There are dozens (hundreds?) of alternatives, but this one works for me. It’s my task-management pill. It augments my capability.

Likewise, Evernote compensates for my generally poor memory– I can shove pictures, information, and email in there, and I know I’ll be able to retrieve it later, from any device.

These things help me. To my employer, they make me a more valuable employee, but I would never expect an employer to provide them, just like I wouldn’t expect them to offer smart-pills. It’s up to me to outfit myself for the workday, whether that means a cup of coffee, a memory pill, a bionic elbow, or an app on my smartphone.

An employer should outfit you with the technology you need to do your job– a metal worker needs a blowtorch and mask, a knowledge worker needs an email program, web browser, and office suite, and a software developer needs development tools. Software that improves your ability to function should be your choice, and most likely, you’ll pay for it yourself.

What does this mean? Smartphone “apps” are a preview

Even at companies that restrict what software you can install, you can usually carry phones and other mobile devices. The apps you use exist entirely outside of the IT departments control. Are people using phone and tablet apps to make the work day better, more productive, or more fun? I think so. I do.

My old parent company is a preview, too

Corporate policy forbade us from installing unapproved software.

In four years, I never once saw that policy enforced. Users could (and did) install anything they wanted. This makes sense: in a billable-hours environment, you don’t want IT policy to be a source of friction. Management would rather an employee do billable work, than spend time filling out paperwork in order to get access to Firefox or Tweetdeck or OmniFocus.

This sort of strict-policy/non-enforcement might be the only way a large enterprise can answer to investors and regulators, while giving a 21st Century workforce the flexibility it wants to use the best tools, and best enhancements.

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