Episode 9. Video conferencing: Consumer vs Enterprise tools

Consumer tools are often better than enterprise tools, but can we use them at work? At the start of the pandemic things got a lot looser with what you were allowed to use at work and slowly the screws got tightened again. How can we keep our nice things?

This is not a new problem it’s just been exacerbated by remote working. It used to be Google Docs vs Microsoft Office, now it’s Zoom and Slack vs Teams.

Zoom vs Teams

Ivanka recently used Zoom for workshops, meetings and breakout rooms, but all the meetings ahead of time – internal stuff – were on Teams. It did not seem particularly logical.

Sometimes the problem isn’t quality, it’s a question of familiarity. Each tool works a bit differently so switching is between multiple tools i always a factor.

How do people decide which tool to use? Quality is measured in many ways. Sometimes a startup can move much quicker and innovate in different ways to an enterprise organisation. People will find themselves asking why they can’t have the good features at work.

In the enterprise, the person who is buying it is rarely the person who is using it, so quality problems are less likely to be resolved.

What is important in Enterprise software?

Security, accounts and access are paramount. Sysadmins will have set everything up for Microsoft, but other third-party services may not support these accounts.

Account access permissions get conflated with “security” leading to a mindset where everything is locked-off by default, often introducing friction.

Microsoft used to control the enterprise market with Active Directory and similar technologies. To use Google Docs you had to go outside and make an account. Eventually Google started supporting these enterprise needs but it took a while. Zoom is still more on the “new” side, and meanwhile Microsoft is able to build superficially equivalent tools on their existing infrastructure but these will often be weaker solutions than the originals, suffering also from not being “battle tested” in the same way as widely-used consumer software.

Michael remembers going from working in local government to the private sector, and what a breath of fresh air it was to even be able to install software on his own computer. Then later, as a contractor, he was relieved when startups used Google Suite instead of a Microsoft infrastructure.

There are still councils where Google Docs is blocked by the firewall.

“Of course data privacy and security is really important. When it is. But not when it isn’t! Not all data needs to be subject to huge levels of rigour and security.”

Ivanka

Often the risk assessments are done without proper consideration for what sort of data is being discussed.

Security by obscurity is sometimes enough, because the data really is of no interest to anyone.

“You can move faster by asking for forgiveness instead of permission but when there is a reputational risk to an organisation of thousands of people then that’s a lot scarier to the people in charge – to the IT dept, to people who will be forced to resign if some piece of data got leaked”

The irony of locking things down too much is that people will start to bypass the security entirely with USB drives or their own laptops. Just so they can work.

Michael

Too much security can be counterproductive. You hear of people taking photos of documents and sending them via WhatsApp. When you make it harder for people to have full bandwidth communication, sharing video, sketches, audio – all that, then people start trying to solve the problems and they might not understand the security risks at all.

“Is Zoom better than Teams? […] it’s not necessarily about that – it’s about how you bring in the new tools.

Ivanka

“I can imagine suggesting Twitch in a corporate environment would blow people’s heads apart”

Ivanka

Sometimes the hardest thing switching is that we have incorrect expectations of the enterprise tool’s capabilities, based on our experiences of consumer alternatives.

If you know the limitations then that’s fine, but if your expectations have been set by some consumer tool that’s entirely focused on user experience, and you try to apply that mindset to something “enterprisey” that’s where a lot of problems come from.

How can you talk to IT departments to navigate this problem?

If you’re willing to go into battle for an app that has features that are worth it, then anticipating the concerns people have is really important. Understand they’re worried about data security and privacy.

“I’ve been caught up in conversations where people were obsessing about how passwords would be distributed, but there were only 20 users on that system – we could have just gone to their house with a bit of paper!”

Ivanka

When deeply sensitive information is at stake, medical records for example, then privacy and security is paramount. But if you’re running a team meeting about the design of your intranet, then apart from perhaps some embarrassing conversations, who is looking for it? why would they be stealing it? what for? How long does it survive?

First you have to truly understand the risks and then don’t allow the IT team to conflate “I don’t want to learn a new thing” with “it’s too risky”.

The security argument is misused ubiquitously – even Apple’s anti-right-to-repair arguments.

It’s easy to make a rule where “you always have to use X” but in reality it should be case-by-case – it’s almost a good sign in Ivanka’s earlier story – that they were able to use Teams for the internal and Zoom for external. Having a slightly more nuanced approach to security constitutes progress. The more “hard line” the more likely security is to be subverted by people trying to get their job done.

Bad rules can lead to really poor choices. If tools are chosen because they all come from the same vendor, this is much worse than being significant about the requirements of each particular tool – data requirements, user experience – everything. Then new rules can be added that are about the functionality instead of an overly simplistic procurement model.

It’s tricky when money is involved in this way – an organisation may have paid for something and be committed to using it.

When a product is free, your data is probably for sale

A lot of commercial software is free because the vendor’s business model is your data. This might be an acceptable trade-off for individuals but for companies, it’s usually unacceptable. YouTube or Facebook Live are unlikely to acceptable because of those companies’ business models.

But again, it depends on what you’re streaming or holding a meeting about.

The politics of procurement

It might be less about “what is a the best software?” and more about finding more sophisticated and even democratic ways of procuring software.

I’m the [eldest] of seven children – if one of us got a bike then we’d all have to get a bike. In an enterprise if you can get out of the habit of thinking you have to buy the same thing for everyone.”

Michael

You’ve got to find someone you can have a good faith conversation with who is in charge of those decisions.

Sometimes it’s more about trusting employees. If somebody is just “mucking about” with the shiny new app that’s not the same as choosing the best tool to do their job.

Naughty Michael

When Michael was in the public sector he eventually looked over the sysadmin’s shoulder and noted the password. Turned out they used the same password for everything! So he was able to administer his own computer.

“I was eventually given the password but I just got sick of having to wait a day every time I needed anything”

Michael

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