Bring Your Own Stack to Work – An Employee Dream or an IT Nightmare?

Bring Your Own Stack to Work – An Employee Dream or an IT Nightmare?
August 10, 2022

Today’s employees enter the workplace with a new expectation: they expect to use the technology they want to use. But can IT really manage a workplace where you can bring your own stack?

Ten years ago, the concept of employee experience conjured images of well-decorated, comfortable offices, with ping pong tables and beer on tap. It’s a construct of employee engagement that now feels almost painfully out of touch. Today, as IT leaders focus on facilitating hybrid and remote work through digital transformation, they do so in service of employees whose ideas of a positive experience have dramatically shifted. 

The increasingly employee-driven workplace has given workers more agency and flexibility than ever, a change that’s sparked the emergence of trends that once seemed radical, such as a “bring your own tech stack” policy.

It’s no secret why this sort of policy appeals to employees. Anyone who has changed jobs is familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you realize, sometime during onboarding, that your new workplace uses totally different applications than they ones you’re comfortable with.

So it makes sense that employees are intrigued by the idea of having complete control over their digital environment. But for IT, it’s another story. The phrase “bring your own stack” may strike fear in the hearts of service workers, conjuring nightmares of mysterious incidents and emergency weekend calls.

If you’re debating how feasible this sort of policy is for your organization, keep reading. Below we’ll explore the benefits and limitations of this new trend, and answer the question of whether or not a “bring your own stack” strategy can be deployed successfully.

Getting the Stack Right

In today’s digital economy, an organization is only as good as their technology. It’s no exaggeration to say that having the right or wrong technology stack can make or break a business. According to recent research from Accenture, 77% of executives state that their technology architecture is becoming very critical or critical to the overall success of their organization.

But what does the “right” technology look like? From IT’s perspective, an effective tool is one that is easy to adopt, rarely experiences issues, is adaptable to change, and offers a specific value to the greater processes and goals of the business.

Then there’s the question of ever-confounding question of employee preference. Because whatever tools employers are providing, it’s clear that many of their workers aren’t satisfied: according to an EY survey, 84% of employees are looking for better digital tools in their workplace.

Closing this gap between the tech you provide and the tech your employees want is critical in today’s employee-driven workplace. Employee preference isn’t just something to consider: it’s an essential determining factor in how successful a tech stack really is.

The IT Reality

So, employee preference is important. But how much leeway should a company provide? Is a “bring your application” policy even feasible in an enterprise IT environment? Even as a hypothetical thought experiment, a few glaring issues jump out immediately.

The first, of course, is security. Shadow IT is a major security and compliance issue for enterprises. If employees are allowed to bring whatever rogue application they prefer into the environment, that opens up a lot of vulnerabilities for IT to manage. It’s virtually impossible to standardize security measures in an environment full of unapproved solutions; the influx of blind spots all but guarantees that a bad actor or two will slip through the cracks.

Shadow IT also makes IT teams much less efficient in their approach to incident management. With visibility into every platform and application, they can automate solutions to issues across the enterprise to avoid repeated issues. But if they’re faced with optimizing a hundred different tools handpicked by employees, they’ll end up buried in support tickets.

The above issues pave the way for a third concern: the strain that Shadow IT puts on IT workers’ time and wellbeing. IT teams at the enterprise level are already fully loaded with tasks and projects. Add in an ever-growing pile of shadow applications, and IT workers have less time to focus on innovation initiatives, encounter more sudden incidents, and experience more stress and pressure as a result. And as we articulated recently on the DEX Hub, the employee experience of IT workers is a critical factor to the overall company’s success. 

Is a Compromise Possible?

So, can employees enjoy the freedom to choose their own work applications without creating a nightmare situation for IT? The answer is: it depends.

For certain categories of applications, such as collaboration tools, a choose-your-own-app policy is entirely unfeasible. You can’t have half the enterprise on Teams and the other half on Slack. There’d be major communication breakdowns and data siloes that would hinder both the culture and productivity of the company. It’s a lose-lose.

But in other categories, there’s room for more flexibility. For example: let’s say your company uses a specific project management platform to keep track of every team’s individual tasks and big-picture objectives. A certain marketing employee uses this platform to keep her peers updated, but she also loves a different platform for her own to-do lists and personal project managing. There’s very little risk in allowing her to use this tool for her own organization and process, even if she’s the only one using it.

In this type of case-by-case approach to unstandardized apps, it’s up to IT to determine which employee-selected tools are safe, secure, and relatively inconsequential to the greater flow of the organization. But they can only manage a vast suite of work applications if they have the right IT tools, ones that provide app-agnostic visibility into the activity and performance of every technology, with the capability to proactively identify issues and push out automated solutions. Otherwise, they’ll encounter the same problem of a growing incident ticket backlog.

There’s no one-word answer to the question of whether bring-your-own-stack can be a successful policy. The complexity of today’s business technology means we’ll likely never live in a world where employees can choose every single tool they use – but that doesn’t mean IT can’t lead an initiative that supports greater employee choice. Armed with the right tools, IT can meet employees halfway, giving them more flexibility over their technology without creating an IT nightmare.

Megan Brake is a Content Strategist at Nexthink, interested in the intersection of technology and humanity.Learn More

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