Google’s CIO: creating user choice

CIO Insight features an interview with Ben Fried, CIO of Google, where he talks about his role in today’s iconic IT company.

This isn’t a summary of the article; go read it (or you can see the video version). I’ll just pull out one thing.

Fried talks about the way many enterprises try to take cost out of IT by rigid standardisation. The principle is that if you only have one flavour of, say, development environment or Office suite, then support is easier and your front line staff only have to learn one product.

Fried disagrees with the principle. Creative people, he says, aren’t at their most creative if they’re constrained to work with a tool they don’t like. And he has experience to back up the assertion that today’s new generation workforce know they have better IT at home than the office standard provides – and they’d prefer to use it.

At Google, he sees his role as giving people choice. They support MacOS, Linux and two versions of Windows. They like people to use Google Apps, but they have Microsoft and Open Office as well. And so on. And, unlike many of his peer CIOs, he sees this not as a problem but as a cost advantage.

Why? Because the environment is interesting, and higher-calibre people want to work in support there. So more problems get fixed on the front line. And when something gets turned off (this is a real case, not hypothesis) there’s limited need for a big change programme. Users adapt, and those that have problems get immediate and effective front line support. “Yes,” he says, “you do have to invest in having more expertise in more operating systems, etc. But virtually all of our applications are Web-based, so we don’t worry about desktop installs and supporting native applications and clients.”

There’s a difference between complexity and choice. As some of us have been saying for years, and organisations like Google are proving, offering users choice can drive up effectiveness and drive down overall cost at the same time. For competitive advantage, naturally.

• Google It: IT`s Competitive Advantage, CIO Insight (text version), 10 Dec 2009
• Google CIO on ITs Role in Corporate Culture, CIO Insight (video), 10 Dec 2009, with a few glimpses of the inside of Google’s Silicon Valley campus
• Or go to the full digital version of CIO Insight, Dec 2009

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