The Increasingly Digital Workplace

Observations on changes in the last ten years.

Introduction

In my new position as a faculty member at the ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, I often reflect on how much the world has changed since I attended college.

I’m no spring chicken. I remember receiving my first e-mail in 1991. It blew my mind. Back then, nary a student nor a professor came to class with a portable computer. During my second year of grad school, I accessed the nascent Internet with Cornell’s Bear Access.

Since I teach seniors, most of them will soon move from the classroom to the workforce in a few months. (Some are intent on pursuing graduate degrees.) Against this backdrop, I found several of Adam Kornak’s questions particularly interesting:

  • Should PCs, Macs, or both be used? Will firms support all them?
  • What applications should an organization build?

Funny enough, I address these very issues in my System Design class (CIS440). Many of my students will have to grapple with them sooner rather than later.

Building Applications

I know of a pharmaceutical company that for years built its own back-office systems and standalone applications. This never made sense to me. Does Facebook manufacture its own aspirin for employees?

Can and should are very different things.

In an era of open-source software, cloud computing, near-zero data-storage costs, and software development kits (SDKs), just about anything is possible. Make no mistake, though: can and should are very different things. In fact, firms may not need to build proper applications at all or even provision equipment. After all, we live in an era of BYOD.

The old rules for controlling employees just don’t apply. In the mid-1990s, few employees could access the Internet at work. IT departments could easily restrict browsers via tools such as Websense. No espn.com or, er, adult sites for you on company time.

Not anymore.

Now just about everyone is carrying around at least one device that can connect to their carrier’s network (not the enterprise’s). How does an organization control untoward employee behavior? How do you stop someone from taking pictures of sensitive information? What about employees live-tweeting internal meetings? Doing so may very well solve one problem but cause others. In other words, the cure may be worse than the disease.

Simon Says: There are no simple solutions.

To paraphrase from Mike Ehrmantraut on Better Caul Saul (spoilers), You know what is happening. The question is, How you live with it?

Locking down networks, tokenization, and requiring two-factor authentication may make things more secure, but measures such as these also increase friction and frustration. Depending on the stakes, the juice may be worth the squeeze.

I can say, however, that “de-digitizing” the workplace isn’t an option. If teaching Millennials has taught me one thing, it’s that they love their tech. Rather than fight it, why not embrace it?

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