It used to be that to do anything useful with communications and computing technology — access printers, faxes, PCs, databases, and other services — you had to go into the office. As Richard Waters of the FT points out in a piece today, the situation has pretty much reversed itself, with more new Internet services being available “outside the firewall” at home. It is creating a new system of Internet haves and have-nots, with the lockdown of the enterprise desktop making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to use the same tools & service at work as they do at home.
New services from companies such as Google and Skype and the spread of domestic broadband access have created a new generation of digitally aware consumers. Having access to free video conferencing, or being able to examine the world in exquisite detail on a programme such as Google Earth, has awakened home computer users to the expanding possibilities of life on the web.
When they get to work, however, these same computer users are starting to find that many of the digital goodies they have come to expect are out of reach. That is more than just a frustration for individual workers: as more technology innovation shifts to the web, it could slow the pace at which many new technologies are adopted and prevent companies from reaping the full productivity benefits.
I ran into this recently when I had a new PC installed in my office. It was totally locked down, such that I could install nothing on it, which was incredibly irritating, treating a PC as VCR, which is a nice idea — and completely unworkable. Not everyone is able to insist that the lockdown be removed, which I did, so they are forced to operate as second-class computing citizens, not as productive at work as they are at home.