Europeans not ready for 'technology democracy'

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European companies are not ready for 'technology democracy' according to a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The findings, published in, Power to the People, suggest that a 'quiet revolution' is underway in businesses as employees are demanding the power to use the technology applications and devices of their choice in order to perform their work. In doing so, says the report, they are challenging the technology status quo in their organisations, whereby the IT function dictates which technologies can and can't be used by staff. However, European companies are not ready to embrace such technology democracy, with 47% of executives questioned saying that management of their firms resist extending greater technology freedom to employees. The study predicts that as a younger generation of employees – reliant on social networking technologies to conduct their work – permeate offices, the pressure will mount on corporate and IT management. Denis McCauley, director of global technology research with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: "Companies will inevitably lose some control over IT use as a result, but this will be no bad thing provided the risks are managed. The best business innovations tend to originate at the grass roots level and employees should be encouraged to use their technology knowhow to generate them." Further findings revealed: • 42% of European executives say they are prepared to deal with the risks of technology democracy in order to reap the business benefits. The chief gains, they believe, will come in the form of better grass roots innovation, as well as higher morale on the part of employees who are trusted to make at least some technology decisions for themselves. • The risks are real but can be managed. The fears of executives who resist according greater technology freedom are not misplaced. Many employees have wasted valuable work time using Web 2.0 applications for personal purposes and companies have been damaged by sensitive information appearing on blogs, for example. Respondents agree that the biggest risks from technology democracy are lower productivity, the loss of confidential information and an increased vulnerability to viruses. • Keeping technology chaos in check requires clear rules. Where any degree of democracy exists, technology freedom must be supported by clear rules and regulations to prevent a descent into chaos. The most important means of minimising productivity loss and security risks include conducting regular and mandatory training courses for employees, developing formal guidelines and continuing the work of upgrading network defences. • Firms must provide better training on using new technologies. Most executives in the survey claim that their firms have drafted IT policies to govern employees' use of devices, applications and websites in the workplace. But few have begun to instil these guidelines in the minds of employees: no more than 21% of surveyed firms provide training on the use of personal communications devices, and only 17% do this in regard to social networking applications. More worryingly, no more than one-fifth have plans to do so in the future. • Some IT decentralisation may be needed to manage the security risks. When asked their view on the implications of greater technology freedom for the IT function, survey respondents' reply that the delegation of responsibility for information security to individual business units is the most likely outcome. This would allow the IT function to focus on other tasks, such as the management of firewalls and other aspects of physical network security and tracking new external threats.