Employees are telecommuting and working remotely, they’re bringing their own laptops into work, and they’re using smartphones and tablets to extend that work outside of the office.
But it doesn’t stop there: Cloud computing and social networks represent new ways for workers to connect, communicate and collaborate. And employees are also using third-party consumer apps interchangeably for business and personal use. What this means is that the boundaries between our work and personal lives are no longer clearly defined.
One of the biggest challenges for organizations today is the consumerization of IT, which basically means that consumer technologies are shaping IT strategy in the workplace. With this device proliferation and explosion in social media comes management headaches for an organization’s IT department, which has less control over the technology being used in the workplace than ever before.
Research firm Gartner predicts that consumerization of IT is going to be one of the hottest trends of this decade. And many CIOs say it’s among their top priorities right now. It’s a trend that’s here to stay, and an area that organizations should look at closely over the next couple of years.
According to Osterman Research, in its 2011 Consumerized IT Security Survey, more than 80 per cent of those surveyed are letting their employees use consumerized IT products and services for business communications.
But according to research firm International Data Corp., many employers don’t seem to know how many or what type of consumer technologies are being used in their workplace, and workers reported using consumer-driven devices at twice the rate employers reported. Workers are also dissatisfied with the level of IT support provided for consumer technologies.
And although employers want to increase the business use of social networking over the next year, few are integrating those technologies into existing enterprise apps, and most organizations lack guidelines for social media in the workplace, IDC said.
Because technology — particularly mobile technology — is rapidly changing the market, organizations are being forced to implement this new technology more quickly or deal with employees bringing their own devices into work.
In the desktop world, IT departments typically have only had to manage PCs and Macs. In the mobile world, however, they’re managing laptops, tablets and smartphones with different operating systems and different versions.
Support is needed for the myriad devices, including iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and other mobile platforms. IT departments have to manage the use of cloud computing and software-as-a-service, from Dropbox for file sharing to Salesforce.com for customer relationship management. And they have to monitor the use of social media in the workplace, such as Facebook and Twitter, which often blurs the line between work and personal use.
The biggest concern around consumerized IT is security and privacy, from theft to compliance to intellectual property protection. Other concerns are compatibility with existing infrastructure and management of this type of environment.
While some organizations are in denial, others have dealt with this by dictating which devices their employees can use in the workplace – but this is becoming increasingly harder to enforce. Even if organizations have a policy against the use of personal devices at work, research shows there are a high percentage of “renegade” employees who will use their own devices anyway.
Consumerized IT in the workplace is here to stay, which is forcing organizations to fundamentally change the way they operate. In many ways this is a good thing – it allows employees to be more productive, engaged and agile. And without it, they run the risk of not being able to attract and retain the best talent, who expect to have the same (or better) functionality at work as they do at home.
Organizations need to plan for consumerized IT to reap the benefits it can provide, while protecting their data and maintaining compliance. Rather than just saying no to employees, talk to them, find out what technology they’re using and how they’re using it. Develop a strategy to support and manage multiple consumer devices and provide the same type of user experience in the workplace.
SAP, for example, has a device-agnostic approach, allowing us to run pretty much any type of mobile device on our infrastructure. And we were also one of the first companies to adopt the iPad, which has given our employees unprecedented flexibility — and given us a competitive edge in the marketplace.
There are plenty of tools and technologies available that can help manage this rapidly changing environment, but it’s equally important to update your organization’s policies and procedures. Any strategy around consumerized IT should not only include a technology component, but also employee education and training. This can help your organization mitigate the risks of consumerized IT, while enhancing productivity and innovation.
Mark Aboud is the managing director of SAP Canada.