Monday, November 16, 2009

Why do companies use five year old laptops?

There's a great article in today's WSJ entitled, It's a free Country... So why can't we pick our technology?  The article looks at how many of us in the corporate world use antiquated technology in the workplace, and far more advanced technology at home.  I can relate.

Xerox has a very rich heritage around technology and innovation.  We created (but didn't always capitalize as well as we could have) on things like the Graphical User Interface, the Mouse and Ethernet networking.  We've come up with some amazing technologies around documents, copiers and printers that makes our products some of the best in the world.  What kills me is way companies like mine treat the technology that their employees are exposed to day in and day out.  You've got to wonder what the cultural impact will be around innovation when a company does not drive employees to stay up to date on innovation in their every day life.

My companies provide employees with very old Dell D610 laptops running an 8 year old Windows XP operating system.  They use a firewall to block many web sites around newer technologies, like Google Mail, Twitter and Facebook.  Only recently have they opened up YouTube as they've begun to use this as an advertising medium. 

It makes this example of Kraft Foods, a large global consumer company, that much more interesting:
Until a couple of years ago, Kraft Foods Inc., the consumer-goods giant, had a rigid approach to workplace technology that was typical of many big companies: It locked down PCs so employees couldn't install software on their own, and it prevented them from accessing sites like YouTube and Facebook. When it came to hardware, Kraft offered a limited choice of smart phones and Windows PCs.
This is a novel idea:
Executives began to worry that the company's technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends. Kraft was a consumer company, they figured, so workers needed to be more familiar with the technologies that consumers were using, whether the iPhone or YouTube.
They key phrase here is that Kraft is a consumer company, so they wanted employees to know what consumers use out there.  Bingo.  This is key to bringing workers forward and encouraging them to understand the technology available in the world around them.  My company consists of a much older work force, many of whom are not technology adept.  It would be interesting to see the impact of some of Kraft's best practices around laptops and phones in Xerox.

The article continues on about Kraft:
So, the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Web sites, and the company started a stipend program for smart phones: Workers get an allowance every 18 months to buy a phone of their choosing. (Over 60% picked iPhones.) Kraft has also started a pilot program to let some of its employees pick their own computer. One catch: Employees who choose Macs are expected to solve technical problems by consulting an online discussion group at Kraft, rather than going through the help desk, which deals mainly with Windows users.
I get that diversity of technology can be expensive, especially amongst a global workforce of 50,000 people.   I understand that in a company where people are not technologically savvy, support can be a ugly.  Being someone who is in front of customers days in and day out, it's can be a tough sell to tell the world that you're a technology leader while using antiquated technology.  Hopefully, as the economy starts to turn, we'll start to see a refresh of some of our technology, especially our laptops.  On the upside, I work for a progressive group with progressive leadership in my company that has been willing to bend the rules to allow innovation to occur. (As a result of this post, I got a note from a co-worker that that this refresh has begun).

On the bright side, my company did open up early on their Microsoft Exchange E-Mail servers to allow SmartPhone access as well as iPhone access.  Since then, they've tried to standardize everyone on Blackberries, but still allow iPhones if you want to foot the bill.   They've also done a nice job of leveraging Twitter, Second Life and Facebook as communication mediums, while many other companies I talk to are far behind.  We've incorporated web based CRM solutions for our Sales Force management, which I think is ahead of the times as well.

I really love the company I work for, and I want to see it continue to move more fully into some of the newer technologies even faster than they are.  Or.... Maybe I just want a better laptop. 

(Disclaimer: As mentioned in the footer of my blog, I should probably reiterate this here as well: While I am a Xerox employee, this personal blog and it's contents in no way represent the opinion of Xerox Corporation or any of it's affiliates)

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