Groundswell technology comes to consumers first. At home, we get social, mobile, video, and cloud services pitched to us 24×7. Facebook, Android, iPad, Foursquare, Google, YouTube, Office Web Apps, Twitter. The list is endless and growing every single day. Empowering technologies like these will always come to consumers first. Why? Because it's a wide-open market. A single developer can build an application that changes the world from their broadband-connected bedroom.

All this technology puts tremendous power directly into the hands of your customers. Your customers often have more information than your sales team — or medical staff — does. They can also whack your brand from their smartphone, with video even, while waiting impatiently in line. They can get a recommendation from someone in their business network while listening to your pitch. Customers are empowered by information and connections. You'd better make sure you give customers better information than they can get elsewhere.

The only way to do that is to empower your employees to directly engage the needs and expectations of empowered customers. Only empowered employees can solve the problems of empowered customers.

Fortunately, your employees are not standing still. People are problem solvers. Left alone, your innovative employees (we call them HEROes — highly empowered and resourceful operatives) are building new solutions using these same groundswell technologies — and many others besides — to solve customer problems.

In fact, 37% of US information workers — employees that use computers for work — use do-it-yourself technology to get work done. Personal mobile devices. Unsanctioned Web sites like Skype or Google Docs or LinkedIn or Unsanctioned software downloaded to a work computer.

And it's mostly good. It's covert innovation — your employees solving your business problems at the ground level. Being productive by harnessing new tools.

Your challenge is to support this innovation while keeping the company safe. Your opportunity is to work directly with managers and employees to empower employees to solve customer problems. And that takes a whole new way of thinking and acting. It takes an empowered IT organization working under a new set of principles.

Empowerment is chapter 3 in the Internet story. Chapter 1 is the Web. Chapter 2 is social computing. Chapter 3 is empowerment. Empowerment has that feel of inevitability. Companies like Best Buy that empower employees to solve the problems of empowered customers will win. Companies like Circuit City that don't will lose.

My colleague Josh Bernoff and I have written a book about it that will be available in September. And we’ve just published an article in Harvard Business Review. And for Forrester customers, you can read an expanded report.

We all have lots of work to do to empower employees. I’d love to hear what you're doing.