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National Geographic's IT team turns the page on mobile apps

Tom Kaneshige | Nov. 8, 2013
The venerable publication has adapted as the publishing industry has changed, and its IT department is also adjusting to the times. National Geographic's IT leaders now allow employees to use any apps they choose and rely on business unit managers to make sure their workers are doing the right thing.

If National Geographic taught us anything over its 125-year history, it's this: Survival depends largely on adapting to constantly changing conditions.

So it is with National Geographic's prized printed magazine morphing into a digital publication. Behind the scenes, the company's IT department must also adapt after having been de-clawed by employees empowered by the consumerization of technology in the enterprise.

"The old IT was, 'We're going to do a release once a quarter and test for 10 weeks out of that quarter and on the first day of quarter two, you're going to use it and love it,'" says Dan Backer, director of infrastructure systems at National Geographic, speaking at Okta's user conference in San Francisco this week. "That's the part of IT that's eventually fading into irrelevancy."

"People started coming out of the woodwork with all their shadow IT cloud apps. They said, 'We want to do the right thing and get on board with you guys.'"

— Dan Backer, Director of Infrastructure Systems, National Geographic

The corporate computing environment today is one where IT can no longer dictate to its users. Business line managers and employees have quickly climbed up the food chain and are now choosing what apps and mobile devices they want to consume. CIOs must find ways to lure employees into the folds of secure and compliant best practices and sound technology investments. If they can't, then employees will simply cut IT out completely with stealth tech and rogue projects.

Mobile Apps Lurking in the Shadows of IT
A Mobiquity-commissioned survey found this to be especially true with mobile apps. Employees love the simplicity and ease-of-use of consumer apps and shun unwieldy enterprise ones. The report found that two out of three employees "go rogue" and download apps from public app stores that they prefer over those that their IT department wants them to use. This, of course, leads to security risks.

The survey also found that IT is trying to regain control by preloading apps onto mobile devices and creating app blacklists, which further fans the flames between IT and employees.

National Geographic's IT department took a different approach: It opened the floodgates and let employees use whatever apps they wanted. IT promised to make life easier for employees if they put their consumer apps under Okta's single-sign-on purview. With a single password, they could access all their business apps in one place. IT could also help business managers with cloud contracts and security.

"People started coming out of the woodwork with all their shadow IT cloud apps," Backer says. "They said, 'We want to do the right thing and get on board with you guys.'"


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