Who Needs IT Experts? Workers Take Control

Savvy office workers frustrated that their on-the-job computer tools don't function as smoothly as, say, an Apple iPod are taking matters into their own hands.

No longer are they relying on company technicians, or information technology (IT) administrators, to choose the software needed to get the job done. They know how to pluck tools right off the Web.

Industry observers use the term "consumerization" to describe the phenomenon whereby office workers are less likely to wait for the IT folks to equip them.

Analyst Rebecca Wettemann of software research firm Nucleus Research says her company's surveys of corporate technology users frequently turn up the question: "Why can't I do what I want without getting an OK from IT?"

All of this poses a challenge to Microsoft Corp's business software franchise, and may be one of the under-appreciated reasons it's trying to acquire Yahoo Inc with its 500-million-strong base of Web consumers.

"Individual people, not IT organizations, are driving the next wave of (technology) adoption," Forrester Research said in a recent report.

Forrester refers to the movement toward user control and individual empowerment as "Technology Populism," others refer to it as "Office 2.0." Less sympathetically, consulting firm Yankee Group, in a 2007 report entitled "Zen and the Art of Rogue Employee Management," sees it as a threat for IT managers.

Micorsoft Vulnerability a Yahoo Strength

Once an isolated minority, these unhappy consumers have entered the mainstream of work life with a growing technical self-confidence. The braver souls shun corporate "help desks" as much as possible.

Because Web-based services often are free or charge little, budget restrictions, typically used by corporate managers to rein in organizational projects, rarely apply.

"IT managers have served as corporate gatekeepers. With software on demand, average people are able to explore and access and do much more than they have in the past," Wettemann says. "That power is going away," she said of central control.

This is risky for the software maker. The ease with which modern Web sites let individuals add or subtract features creates headaches for Microsoft, a company that grew rich selling software to organizations and technical decision makers. The next version of Microsoft Office software only goes into testing in 2009.

"Established software companies like Microsoft have less ability to promise a product in the future and have customers wait for it," Wettemann says. "When something I can find on the Web does 70 percent of what I want, today, why should I wait?"

Microsoft and rival Google Inc have come to represent polar opposites in this debate over how to handle employees who want more say over their office technology.

Google has targeted individual business users by appealing directly to their frustrated consumer impulses.

But Yahoo's similarities to Google in terms of Web delivery, consumer focus and use of open standards technology could speed Microsoft's own belated moves in this direction if it can succeed in acquiring Yahoo and keep its loyal audience.

Beyond Search and Advertising

Microsoft has mainly justified its unsolicited offer for Yahoo as the fastest way to make it a formidable rival to Google in Web search and advertising. The software giant downplays any imminent threat by Web services to its business.

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