Don’t set the rules too tightly — people will just go around them

Who saw the Dilbert cartoon in early January, in which Asok the intern called the IT department to get his PC upgraded? His co-workers reacted with terror: “”They’re coming here?”” asked a horrified Dilbert. “”We must hide our non-standard equipment!”” screamed Alice. Then Mordac, preventer of information

technology, removed Asok’s computer, printer and monitor because they were non-standard. The final panel showed Asok sitting at a bare desk, months later, and Dilbert offering him an abacus.

No doubt some Computing Canada readers objected to this characterization of IT.

Understandable. But let me tell you that one user I know took one look at the cartoon and said it sounded exactly like her workplace.

Ouch. There are good reasons for setting hardware and software standards. They’ve been well covered in these pages over the years. Some consistency makes support easier, bulk buying reduces costs, and so forth. And IT does need to have some say about what gets hooked up to the network. Rogue wireless access points are a perfect example — WiFi devices without security properly configured have rightly been compared to installing an Ethernet jack on the front of your building.

Many, if not most, organizations set such standards. Google the term “”non-standard hardware”” and you’ll find reams of corporate policies on the subject.

But as the Dilbert cartoon reminds us, you can go too far. Set standards that don’t provide enough scope to meet users’ legitimate needs, and you do one of two things. You either impede productivity, or you force users to do an end run around the rules. Like one person I know of who bought software out of discretionary funds she controlled because IT wouldn’t approve the purchase (and stories like that are common). Like the people who install rogue access points.

Richard Webb, directing analyst for wireless LANs at Infonetics Research Inc., in London, says one of the best ways to stop rogue access points from proliferating in your organization is to install an officially sanctioned, IT-controlled and properly secured wireless network. Then, he says, “”There’s no need for employees to be bringing an access point from Radio Shack into the enterprise.””

It’s a bit like raising kids. It’s understandable that parents want to tell their 18-year-old offspring not to drink, for instance, but if Junior is afraid to call for a ride or take a cab because that would mean admitting he’d had too much to drink, isn’t it better to face reality?

Looking at the results of a search on “”non-standard hardware,”” I found a lot of policies that allow users to install something not on the approved list — though they are often asked to justify the purchase and may not get as much support as with standard configurations.

Rules are necessary. Without some standards and policies, IT would become impossible to manage. But overdo it and you may end up with just as much anarchy, made worse by an adversarial relationship with users.

Don’t be a preventer of IT.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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