Last week, Forrester held its annual IT Forum in Las Vegas with the interesting theme, “The Business Technology Transformation: Making It Real.” Gathering together a group of IT professionals and vendors interested in how business leaders will insert themselves into technology decisions, it provided a perfect opportunity for me to discuss Technology Libertarianism – my shorthand for IT departments that take a hands off approach to technologies workers want to use to do their jobs. On the floor of the conference I talked to an IT professional at a large, national non-profit organization and two information workers from at a public corporation providing a popular software-as-a-service application.

The conversation with the IT professional centered on his organization’s need for standardization: they were making efforts to have a homogeneous computing environment for the purposes of having greater control. During our talk, we discussed the influence an end user could possibly have over applications and hardware. His thoughts? While the end users in his organization needed a standard set of applications, and they needed to control the desktop environment to ensure delivery of said applications, he could see the potential of not having to standardize smartphones. When I introduced the idea of virtual desktops to push applications or software-as-a-service, which would allow him not to have to standardize the desktop, he did concede those are interesting ideas. However, he needed to see more evidence that these could be effective solutions for his organization.

My conversation with the two end users started with discussing their use of iPhones. What they both related to me was when they asked their IT department if there was a specific type of smartphone they should be using, the response was use what you want. What makes this approach so interesting is the fact that this is a publicly traded company, so the standard arguments against such freedom – security concerns, auditability – typically apply. What I noted in talking to these two information workers, though, was that because they had freedom in choosing that specific end point, there seemed to be great satisfaction with the experience. So what does that tell me?

Well, where there seems to be unity in these two stories is around the wisdom of taking a libertarian attitude toward mobile devices. This is reflected in our data – 56% of firms provide some level of support to personal mobiles. It shows that the beach head for Technology Libertarianism will be not in the sexy SaaS world – with its flashy applications from companies like Google – but with smartphones. Why? Well, as I noted, there are user experience gains when such choice is provided. Additionally, as the work/life balance becomes harder to maintain in this 24/7 business world, employees expect devices that can handle their personal and professional needs. Allowing end users to take control at this level seems to be a business’s first attempt to allow for this balance. The question, of course, is does this really scale considering the regulatory environment many companies inhabit? As the second company demonstrates, there are ways to accomplish this: IBM’s Traveler application allows for the secure push of email to the iPhone and Cisco has already been providing WebEx access to mobile users. As business application vendors continue to develop applications across the spectrum of smartphones, it will become harder for IT departments to deny their users the ability to use these devices. These are my quick thoughts. What is your take?