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BLOG: Digital citizens are tearing down walls

Kevin Noonan | June 14, 2011
One of the IT industry’s most hotly debated problems might finally be coming to an end.

For years, IT managers have been chastised for not being sufficiently business focused. The lack of business alignment has been the topic of countless editorials, surveys and self-help groups. Perhaps the most enduring image has been the self- imposed "wall" between Business and IT. This wall has emerged in many forms, either as orgchart boundaries, or in senior committee and governance structures. Sometimes the differences have become so chronic that frustrated project managers have spoken openly about project specifications being "thrown over the wall".

Walls exist elsewhere in modern enterprises. However, sooner or later, these walls must come tumbling down.

Indeed, August this year marks the 50th anniversary of the building of one of the world's greatest symbols of division, the Berlin Wall. Just like the Berlin Wall, the time has come for the IT industry to tear down its own greatest symbol of division and descent.

However, unlike the Berlin Wall, divisions in the IT industry are coming down without revolution or fanfare. In the end, the combined impact of generational change and consumer IT has been responsible for breaking the divide, despite the failed previous efforts of countless committees and training courses.

In past decades, frustrated business executives would declare "I am not an IT person" and "I'm not interested in technology". Today, frustrated business executives are more likely to demand greater corporate access for their iPad, or better connectivity for their own privately purchased technology. Today's graduates have already lived a lifetime with technology, the Internet, and social networks. They are now demanding access to social networking and improved technology, as part of their conditions of employment.

Today's IT challenge is not about managing and maintaining the walls that create separation and boundaries, but to find efficient and effective ways of tearing them down.

These changes are not just limited to the corporate world. Citizens are now demanding to engage with government and industry in fundamentally different ways. Indeed, the recent series of natural disasters provide some very useful insights into how much citizen expectations have changed.

During the recent floods, the Queensland Police Facebook site became a national phenomenon. Replacing traditional forms of public communication, citizens turned to social networks in droves. In a single peak day, visits to the Police Facebook site equated to almost 10 times the population of Queensland. More important, the Police Facebook site received 11,000 comments from the public, delivering valuable real-time feedback.

Public hunger for social networking is not limited to developed countries such as Australia. A recent United Nations report into last year's Haiti earthquake observed that citizens were found texting for help from under the rubble. In addition, citizens successfully used social media to message friends and relatives overseas to seek assistance. The UN report found what came next, was "like drinking from a fire hose". An entire population mobilised with their own personal technology to provide their own assistance. In one of the world's poorest countries, formal government IT infrastructure was no match for the combined IT power of a mobilised population.


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