Time to rethink "power users"
Enterprise 2.0 definitely isn't a practical reality for many IT departments, and for those unfamiliar with the concept, the "2.0" moniker contemplates a world where individual users identify, provision and deploy their own applications, software and devices. For many IT managers, Enterprise 2.0 ranges between pure fantasy and a nightmare. The vision of Enterprise 2.0 is best encompassed by the power user, an individual whose desire for the latest technologies continually pushes the limit of IT resources and policies.
As a matter of fact, power users are already treated with a degree of caution. IT managers know that if you fail to pay attention, you'll get bitten, and you definitely don't want to give "administrator" or "power user" privileges to those individuals most likely to reconfigure a router, a server -- or worse. But in today's rapidly changing mobile IT environment, power users can be an asset for even the most skeptical IT department. These individuals demonstrate a well-above-average interest in mobile devices and applications, and they're likely to spend their own money on the latest and greatest smartphone device. Every company has someone who created mobile email for himself well before the CEO even knew that a BlackBerry wasn't a key ingredient for a pie.
The question is: Exactly what can we do with these users? How can IT management leverage their energy? How can companies harness their expertise? How can managers turn a perceived "nuisance" into an asset?
Lessons from the industry
The mobility industry has already figured out that power users are a valuable commodity. Device manufacturers and wireless operators already have programs to reach out to bloggers who are vocal on mobility topics. These companies give away devices and services in return for directed feedback to make their products and services better.
To get a better idea of the kinds of traffic that mobile device information creates on the Internet, do a search for a specific device, such as RAZR v3i, Nokia E62 or Samsung BlackJack. Then look at the message boards at a place like Phone Scoop. How many of the power users in your company spend time at places like these? How many of the power users in your company are already posting comments and reviews on these Web sites?
If you look at the details that individual users provide, you see that quite a bit of information is already available that might cut the research resources for a particular project. In the research phase of a project, the question IT managers need to answer is whether to use the larger community of power users or to leverage the power users in their own organization.
If we assume that a power user may be willing to allocate time – subject to managerial approval – researching the "best device" for an application, we also know that the user is probably willing to spend time testing devices to arrive at a final conclusion. If there are enough power users, a testing program can be set up to capitalize on that interest. But there is more to enterprise mobility than mobile telephones, and that's where applications come in.
Many of the applications that users can download to a smartphone fail to satisfy the larger corporate requirements for integration to enterprise data, so it may be a little more work to get power users defining and testing applications. But the option remains to take the interested users in a given activity profile and to get them involved in defining application requirements, identifying features, and working with management and IT to make these mobile applications a corporate reality.
Socializing and training
Once an application has been developed and tested, power users can be an integral part of introducing mobile devices and applications to co-workers, and the enthusiasm that power users bring to the process can help in training and support. Instead of communicating mobility as something that comes from "on high" somewhere within the IT department, power users can reinforce the idea of user empowerment and workforce "ownership" of the application and its future development.
Once the application or solution is deployed, power users can continue to be liaisons between groups of workers and IT management, actively participating in ongoing application and process improvement.
The approaches mentioned above are not new – they reflect "best practices" experiences from companies that have already deployed large mobile workforce applications. By harnessing the energy of power users, IT management can solicit active participation from a group of workers interested in going the "extra mile" to make their mobile experience both positive and successful.
In an ever-changing mobile marketplace, power users can be effective "eyes and ears" for enterprise IT management. So the next time someone appears in your office looking for help in configuring a new smartphone or PDA, take a step back and think about how that person can help you to do your job, because chances are good that they can.