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Corporate IT Stifles Web Design Creativity

[lead]As a web designer in the year 2011, I stay afloat of all the newest trends and techniques that help make the web as a platform the most agile of any other. It seems almost daily that new tips or tricks are posted to the select few websites I follow and those tips and tricks are things that are new, creative, and cutting-edge. Owning a web design shop keeps me current, admittedly, but there’s no real reason that the general population shouldn’t be able to enjoy the technological advancement that has almost put a final nail in Adobe Flash coffin. With modern browsers, I can animate almost anything and do almost anything that, just a few years ago, required proprietary platforms to be able to produce.[/lead]
The problem is that not everyone has a modern browser. And a large part of this rests solely in the hands of large corporate IT environments. Take it from me, I’m writing this as a convert who used to live and thrive in the belly of that beast, working as a manager for a company 25,000+ strong.

Corporate IT is lazy. Plain and simple. As a web designer for the general population, I’m forced to think in multiple variables because, if there’s one thing I learned from my Computer Science degree at NC State University is that Murphy’s Law applies. I was trained to think in terms of the worst case. What will someone do to ruin this website or web application? What train of clicks will they make that I never intended them to make but, nonetheless, someone will? What if the user on the other end has an old computer? How do I gracefully fall back?

IT departments control these variables. They purchase the systems. They do the upgrades. They restrict software applications. If you’re building a web application and you find a glitch that doesn’t work on a minor version of Google Chrome, simply restrict the user from being able to use it. It’s that easy. They have control over monitor sizes, browser version, operating system versions, javascript capability, and on and on. They don’t have to think outside of the box or to develop their website or application according to best practices. They can simply fudge the rules.

What do we get out of this? Static applications that cannot scale and cannot adapt with newer technology. Large corporations still use a 10-year-old browser in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and a 10-year-old operating system in Microsoft Windows XP. They created a pivotal web application that does not work on any other browser or operating system except for this subset and restrict access to anything else. Upgrading to the still ancient Internet Explorer 7 (released October 2006) would break their applications. Instead of adhering to development best practices, they cheated their way to their end product and stifle the advancement of technology.

To make a website or application compatible with these systems, we have to develop with the tools and techniques used 10 years ago. As you might have noticed, things have changed quite a bit from the previous year. 10 years is prehistoric in technological chronology.

Only recently did websites like YouTube and Facebook drop the support of Internet Explorer 6 and the rest of the industry has followed suit. We do not develop for Internet Explorer 6 except by specific request and generally, an increase in budget. The corporate IT community begrudgingly went along (but not all of them) and upgraded to Internet Explorer 7. Pardon my stifled celebration. IE7 is better but only marginally.

As another case study to how corporate IT stifles advancement, look no further than Research in Motion (RIM), the creator of the Blackberry. Once the king of smart phones before that term had been coined is now looking at a very bleak future. Why? Simple. Google’s Android OS and Apple’s iOS entered the market and blew everyone away. The hardware was better. The software was better. And when putting a Blackberry next to one of these, the Blackberry looked old. This happened in 2007. It’s 2011 and Blackberry still makes “old” phones. Why haven’t they adjusted? Laziness.

RIM sat back fat and happy with large corporate IT contracts that were good for years. The Blackberry was (and still is) the king of IT Department mobile technology. RIM simply didn’t have to be as innovative as they once were because they had a formula that worked in that type of environment. They took for granted the general population that craved the latest and the greatest. Look at the Apple Store lines for a minor upgrade from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4s. Sure, some of this can be chalked up to “fanboyism” but behind those lines, in a terrible economy, were young people who wanted to talk to their iPhone using Siri. It was new. It was creative. It was a potential game changer. When was the last time you could say the same thing of RIM and Blackberry? 2002?

How do we solve this problem? With time. Even grandma’s and grandpa’s are joining the online chorus. They’re on Facebook and they’re watching videos of Bob Ross and their grandchildren on YouTube. Even they, who don’t have the aptitude for “latest and greatest” but do have the desire for basic functionality, are using newer technology than corporate IT. Sooner or later, corporate IT will wise up and begin developing according to standard. And when they do, I anticipate seeing a whole lot less of Internet Explorer 6’s out there.

And that day can’t get here soon enough.

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Walk West

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