By John Soat, TechWeb, published April 26, 2011

It’s apparent by now that the workplace is undergoing a radical change. It’s the result of two factors inextricably intertwined in our modern environment: technology and culture. This comes as a time when struggling businesses, in order to ensure success, must find new ways to harness the expertise of their employees, maximize relationships, and use information to help reduce costs and increase revenue and profits.

With radical change comes great opportunity. Many businesses are looking to this intersection of technology and culture—as represented, on the one hand, in cloud computing and cloud-based services and, on the other, in the so-called “consumerization of IT” through home PCs, smartphones, and social networks—to provide a way to lower spiraling IT costs while leveraging this workstyle evolution for greater productivity through more agile communication and collaboration.

For instance, it’s not hard to understand that, at the same time IT infrastructure costs are rising, complexity is mounting. Yet many enterprises continue to spend much of their IT budgets maintaining outmoded, inflexible, siloed systems.

But a significant number of businesses are looking for a way out of that cost/complexity/inflexibility trap through the promise of cloud-based IT services. According to a recent poll by Gartner, more than three-quarters (80%) of Fortune 1,000 enterprises will be using some form of cloud or off-premise computing services by 2012. Even more surprisingly, 20% of businesses plan to own zero IT assets.

Similarly, four million workers entering the global marketplace each year are looking for a new way to work, one that draws heavily on their familiarity with consumer products, social networking, and rapid changes in technology. For this new generation of workers, the office cubicle is old-fashioned while telecommuting is favored and international teleconferencing is mandatory.

At the same time, preceding generations still active in the workforce, including GenXers and even Boomers, want to embrace and benefit from this radical workstyle evolution as well. It places a burden of expectation on senior technology leaders.

Like many of his peers, in terms of cloud computing, “we’ve dipped our toe in the water,” says Angelo Mazzocco, CIO of Progressive Medical. On the other hand, for Mazzocco “the ‘consumerization of IT’ is both a good thing and a bad thing,” he says. That’s because the understanding of—and expectations for—IT by tech-savvy corporate consumers creates great demand, which causes a level of frustration in both IT staff and those corporate users.

“What seems like a negative for IT is actually a positive, I would contend,” says Joe Buser, VP of IS for Delta Faucet. “The user that is intelligent about the capability [of technology], about the options, about the value proposition is a much better user to work with than the opposite.”

Fortunately for IT managers, and for tech-savvy workers, there are products emerging that will help them embrace the promises inherent in both cloud computing and the consumerization of technology. For example, Microsoft’s most recent iteration of its Office suite, Microsoft Office 365, combines cloud-based versions of its communications and collaboration products with the latest version of its business desktop applications.

Office 365 brings together online versions of familiar solutions, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online as well as Microsoft Office Professional Plus and Microsoft Office Web Apps. By exploiting these cloud-based solutions, businesses can move forward rapidly, allowing workers to contribute from virtually anywhere using virtually any device.

Because Office 365 is cloud based, IT managers don’t need to factor in costly server deployment or time-consuming server maintenance tasks. Because it’s designed to work with the Office applications people already know, Microsoft Office gives workers, both new and experienced, the opportunity to be productive across the PC, phone, and browser—without organizations have to invest heavily in retraining.

The intersection of technology and culture is an opportunity for IT executives to help their businesses succeed and prosper. Successfully leveraging that synchronicity is the key.