Control Technology Choice, Not Technology Use

by Andrew McAfee on December 16, 2010

I talked a couple days ago with the CIO of a huge global organization. Like a lot of his peers these days, he was pretty interested in Enterprise 2.0, and was digging in on figuring out what it meant for his company and putting a plan together.

For me, the most interesting part of the conversation came as I gave him one of my standard pieces of advice: exercise tight control over technology choice, and as little as possible over technology use. Tight control over technology choice ensures that a big organization doesn’t wind up with hundreds of disjointed deployment efforts and fragmented technology environments. This leads to confusion among people and mutually inaccessible walled gardens of content, neither of which is good.

Minimal control over technology use is a mantra I’ve been chanting into the blogosphere for a while now. The great majority of people know how to behave, want to do their jobs well, and are predisposed to be helpful to their colleagues. If you believe what’s in your mission statement, empower your people (who are, as you say, your most important resource) with the new digital tools without lecturing them too much about how to use them appropriately. When I see 20-page social media policy documents, I always think they could be reduced to one sentence: “We’d really prefer that you not use social media.”

After I’d stopped talking and climbed off my soap box, he let out a rueful laugh and said “Well, so far we’re doing just the opposite.” His company had just finished a lengthy effort to draft its social media policy, which was also lengthy. And they hadn’t yet started to get a handle on all the emergent social software platforms in use throughout the organization.

I think if this company continues down the path of controlling technology use but not technology choice, they’ll be headed in an unproductive direction. Do you agree? Do you agree with my slogan “Control technology choice, not technology use” or do you think it’s misguided? Leave a comment, please, and let us know what you think.

Calcomtech December 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I would definately have to agree with you on limiting choice not use.

Ron Miller December 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Good post and good advice, but I think you also have to let your users experiment a bit. Your post suggests that the enterprise will drive the technology choices and then let the employees loose. I think the opposite tends to be true. The users lead the way and then IT decides whether it’s a good idea or not.

David December 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

As I said in my tweet response, this is absolutely on the point! Although I am now an Enterprise 2.0 consultant, I’ve spent many years on the other side of the fence in various roles as a CEO, Chairman and CFO.

The message of this post needs to be made very clear to both consultants and senior executives alike!

David Demetrius (@Demeto)

Gus Magalhaes December 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

Very much in agreement, however I would be happy to further understand the concept of “technology choice”, mostly on social media.
This whole thing reminds me of file sharing…. controlling its use is never ever going to bring the best out of of us. What would be the “technology choice” in this case?

Karthick Hariharan December 16, 2010 at 10:11 am

Agree here about the choice. But unless we define allowed/disallowed use, it might lead to inappropriate transactions. May be I would see this as, In addition to technology choice, define a list of prohibited transactions and allow them to be creative enough to do what ever they can do with in the allowed limits. Fair ?

Dave Burke December 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I suppose it’s true, tight controls on choice will reduce IT overhead, and give users fewer addresses to remember when accessing E2.0 tools. But I cringe a bit at the likely result of that policy, which for many will be an existing Sharepoint install or KM solution. These would be natural choices for cost conscious CIOs.

Because we invent tools, then the tools shape our work, the choice of technology is in fact a major influence on how the tools are used (or, more likely, *not* used if the the user experience isn’t pretty fantastic, a la the 9x rule).

So I’d add the caveat that tight control should come in after the standard tools are selected, but during the selection process users and business units should have a significant say, and IT should be open to the very real possibility that the right tool doesn’t yet exist in their portfolio.

Zach Lewis December 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Great post – thanks for the insight. Couldn’t agree more on limiting choice; however, if one were to limit use, where would Innovation come from? I view management’s role as an opportunity to provide a solid Platform for users to embrace –> leading to collective knowledge and faster speed-to-market.

Mark Bean December 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm

We take a strategy and road map approach with our clients. Then pick a technology that fits the requirements and organization.
That way we already know:
What can I actually prove drives revenue?
What can I actually prove that cuts cost?
That way you can control both choice and use.

Tom Catalini December 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Yes, if you have commit-table core values, as Tony Hseih would say – meaning you’re willing to hire and fire based on them, then you can have very streamlined policies around things like social media. Take for example, the Zappos policy on Twitter – “Be real and use your best judgment.”

Jody Carbone December 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

Prior to what is now an open field of options for enterprise social platforms many companies started out with wikis, discussion forums and possibly a microblogging tool. Now, as enterprise-wide rollout of integrated platforms becomes the norm, we are finding that many organizations have done excellent jobs of creating a dearth of walled gardens that is somewhat difficult to overcome. Not only in the social sphere, but several ‘legacy’ applications may exist which emerge as barriers to social enterprise adoption. Discussion of emergent social software platforms is the norm, my RSS feed contains multiple choices every day. Yet I struggle to find any content, any blogger or author who discusses planning for either sunsetting or migrating legacy enterprise applications as an essential process within change management. Should anyone be aware of content in this regard, a directed tweet would be most welcome.

Controlling technology choice is a great concept – and certainly more valuable than controlling its use, but the choices made must fit a roadmap (always), and planners must be capable of managing technology vision such that choices can be re-evaluated.

Marc Buyens December 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

I fully agree on this one. Still, in order to maximize the chances that employees will indeed use the tools that are given to them ‘appropriately’ companies can do a much better job describing what fundamental capabilities are driving the success of their business and therefore, are guiding the selection of IT-tools. If this link between business success, business capabilities and IT choices is clear to everyone, chances are that also the use of the chosen tools will be better aligned with this strategy, also without the formal policy document.

Sebastien Wiertz December 19, 2010 at 11:36 am


Speaking of CIO’s. most of them are not aware of both technology and usage when it comes to Social media usage. The definition of a policy simply means a lack of Trust in the employees and this behaviour has never been good for the business inside a company.

Dean Thrasher December 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I think “control technology choice, not technology use” is a great mantra.

I’ve found that the organizations that limit the use of technology only encourage their employees to look to other solutions and services that don’t have usage limits. Keeping a tight rein on technology use can cause an explosion of different tools and platforms to appear within the enterprise as employees look for workarounds.

While it’s the scare stories of inappropriate use that captures people’s attention, the costs to recover from employee mistakes — even potentially serious ones — are often far less than the ongoing costs of implementing and maintaining multiple technology platforms.

Dave Kinkead December 19, 2010 at 11:15 pm


I disagree about controlling technology choice. Once an organisation becomes an ‘enterprise’, the people making decisions about what technology people can use often don’t understand what technology people need.

I can understand the desire to avoid walled data gardens, but my experience in large organisations is that the tech organisation is more concerned with minimising their problems (eg too many systems) than minimising end user problems (eg obstacles to getting the job done). This results in policies than prevent innovation and experimentation at the local level.

To avoid walled data gardens, all that is needed is a requirement for applications APIs in what ever technology users choose. This way one can have the best of both worlds. Perhaps the mantra should be, ‘control technology interaction, not choice or use’.

Martin Hughes December 20, 2010 at 12:53 am

Couldn’t agree more with Dave Kinkead.

It should be noted that many organisations already operate in a fragmented technology environment (typically the result of an organisational culture or mindset which is overly risk averse and closed to new ideas). By determining/restricting the technology that people can or cannot use in a large or medium-sized organisation, this will simply result in the death of innovation.

For example, take the case of a blinkered or recalcitrant (or wilfully blind) IT dept that continually refuses to implement new systems which users have identified as being ideal solutions for their needs (and which could bring many competitive advantages to the organisation, such as speed to market, low cost, open source, etc), but instead the IT dept decides to implement a sub-standard (legacy) system on the basis that it fits with the current IT infrastructure (and means they don’t have to relinquish any control over the system being delivered). If that system doesn’t fulfil user requirements, takes years (rather than days/weeks) to implement, and results in an inefficient, difficult-to-use and time-consuming end product – how could it be argued that the exercise of tight control over the choice of technology used would actually be advantageous to either the end users or the organisation?

Such an overly restrictive and controlling attitude towards new technology will simply result in the non-emergence of social software platforms and innovative ways of working. A better way would be to encourage the use of new technologies by managing how they are to be incorporated into existing infrastructures – i.e. acting as enablers not dictators.

Admin December 22, 2010 at 7:53 am

I agree with you, to control the technology use will make people unproductive because technology makes everything easier. To choose which one is best to be used will trigger a competitive atmosphere among companies.

Kenneth Huie December 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Assuming the needs of the organization are first properly understood, it does make sense to control technology choice – if you mean by that, what platforms (ECM, E2.0, etc.) we will choose to work with – i.e. Open Text Content Server, Hyland Software, Yakabod’s Yakabox and so on. IT should help Business to narrow down the options with their expert knowledge of the technological side so that interoperability is maintained. //Regarding use of said technologies – it really needs to be a type of hybrid. There should be templates of the WIKI and Blog formats – for a cohesive & consistent look and feel, there should be suggested ways (again working with Business to understand the needs of the Organization) to best use the technologies. And there should also be a means to experiment with the various capabilities of the available tool set, then if those uses have merit, publish them to the org. so others may benefit…

Bob Calder December 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Andrew, does your rule apply to literally everything? Are you cutting out any territory at all? What about creatives that want to try out all sorts of new arrangements? Practically speaking, I can see making a tool to aggregate information from various social platforms to keep fragmentation to a minimum.

Andreas Brumby December 25, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I fully agree, if the criteria of technology choice are transparent and communicated and if the chosen technology fulfills e.g. minimum 80% of the best in class features. If technology choice lead to an inferior product, which is not accepted, than you have gained nothing.

So companies need people who can methodically analyze tools (not just by the name of the maker), e.g. they need to understand why the Wikimedia software has no “new” bottom, most others unfortunately have. In case you are stumbling on this. Before you write something new, you need to search whether it is already in.

Mike January 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

After reading the insight provided by your readers, I would change the slogan to:
‘Co-operative technology choive, independant technology use.’

Kelso206 February 24, 2011 at 7:23 am

I’m sure if a company communicates clearly to their employees about how to use social media at work there would be no difficulty. But some companies ban it because alot of people do waste alot of time on Facebook instead of working. Moreover, Facebook can honestly become an obsession. People are practically living in the Facebook world and not getting on with their actual lives.

Fiancee russe March 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Searched for the information on this theme, and only here I found it. So companies need people who can methodically analyze tools (not just by the name of the maker), e.g. they need to understand why the Wikimedia software has no “new” bottom, most others unfortunately have. In case you are stumbling on this. Before you write something new, you need to search whether it is already in.

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