Technology ain’t Rocket Science!
The next wave of ‘the consumerization of IT’, BYOD, is set to hit enterprises, but there are challenges...
The big IT party in the workplace today is of the BYOD (bring your own device) variety. It’s a party that has tech savvy employees investing in consumer technologies and applications to get work done in their workplace (or their course curriculum completed in college). The BYOD trend is sweeping the workplace as smartphones and tablets are helping in social networking and instant messaging, power collaboration, improve productivity, and foster innovation. According to a Forrester report called How Consumerization Drives Innovation released in June 2011, 35% of information workers surveyed in North America and Europe used personal technology at work. As the BYOD trend spreads, it raises 2 issues—is business prepared for it as lines between IT for work and IT for personal use blur? And are makers of devices and applications playing harder to make a direct connect between consumers and their offerings?
A recent study by IDC and Unisys on the consumerization of IT indicated the extent to which business needs to be concerned about these questions. The study done across 10 countries including C-level executives, vice presidents, director-level IT personnel, and business-unit level executives showed that the business usage of applications such as blogs, wikis, BBM, Facebook, Linkedin, and videos is expected to grow by 10-30% by next year. The study forecasts that the number of smartphones used at work will double by 2014.
It is apparent that the command and control system used to implement and drive IT in the past is due for a major overhaul. But there are signs of resistance. The IDC study says that despite the willingness of employees to bring their own devices to work, only about 30% of the businesses surveyed said they were likely to implement a digital allowance to fund the purchase. On the other hand, it may be safe to assume that tech savvy workers will want to work for tech savvy companies. The outcome of these findings will drive device manufacturers and application developers over the next 2 years to build a better connect with their consumers, forcing wider change in the workplace.
Device manufacturers that manage to cozy up to consumers with better pricing, ease of use or intuitive user interfaces, convenient self-service for support, enhanced warranty management, and superior brand perception will lead the market. In turn, this will have a large impact on the devices and technologies that enterprises opt for in the future.
While BYOD redefines IT for the enterprise, it is important to remember that the BYOD trend is an abstraction layer that prioritizes applications over hardware. CIOS will therefore be focused on issues related to licensing, interoperability, security, support, and policy management.
The Groupme messaging service for the Blackberry makes a reasonably simple illustration for consumer needs and enterprise concerns converging in a solution. Groupme has a simple user interface that helps create groups to which messages and pictures can be sent. Each group has a unique phone number. Messages sent to this number are distributed to the entire group. Sounds familiar? It should be because email has used the distribution list concept for ages. But the simplicity and convenience of the app wins when you have to make a conference call. Dialing a single number brings everyone in the group into the call. Groupme keeps your
circle of friends manageable. In the work place, the capability is translated into efficient communication and collaboration to achieve workplace goals.
Ever since Gartner termed the trend ‘the consumerization of IT’ in 2005 and forecasted that consumer IT will affect every enterprise, we’ve witnessed tremendous change. Companies like Cisco have led the efforts to make a direct connect with their consumers. Cisco, with routing and switching products that were largely relegated to the back of the shelf, with only perhaps IT departments fawning over them, today has IP phones and broadband routers that sit proudly on desktops. The company made a conscious effort to become more visible and moved to ‘the human network’ philosophy in 2006 almost transforming itself into a consumer brand. Cisco is indicative of the need for a more ‘human’ connect with IT which need not limit itself to brand visibility but in fact needs to seep into the way interfaces are designed into product accessibility, cost and support to develop a strong connect with the consumer.
The consumerization of IT is a powerful and profound force that is sweeping enterprises. Often, it confounds the enterprise as well because of the challenges faced in the following 4 areas—
Licensing: Consumers are prone to using what is convenient and often do not pay adequate attention to licensing issues. IT departments, to minimize risk, restrict the usage of devices (to company owned), and applications deployed within the organization. Admittedly, it is a difficult balancing act for both—employer and employee—as each has the same goal of improved productivity, but are confounded by their own limitations.
Interoperability: The complexity of IT environments within an enterprise is increasing. Managing complexity is a major cost that enterprises strive to avoid—which is why standardization is such an attractive proposition. The costs involved with integrating and testing devices and applications that employees bring to the workplace can be a drain on resources and gaps in integration can prove costly to business.
Security: Mobile device growth will see a distributed workforce presenting new challenges to security. Users are unlikely to wait for approvals from their IT departments to use devices and applications they have become accustomed to. Not only does this present a security threat to IT environments but enterprises will also need to change the way approval of devices and apps is managed in order to respond more swiftly to employee needs. The IDC report reveals that 52% of those surveyed said they could store personal data on company resources; on the other hand only 37% employers said this was the case. The gap between perception and reality appears to be already significant. Without adequate strategic intervention, the gap could grow wider. But the point is not the gap: the point is the opportunity being lost in delivering higher productivity across the enterprise.
Support: It is almost impossible for an enterprise to offer support to every device that an employee wants to bring into the workplace; or to offer the same level of support to a smaller and select set of devices/apps. Over the next few months, this aspect of the consumerization of IT is likely to take up valuable CIO time and attention. Which devices should be supported? How will support costs be shared between the enterprise and the employee? Given the rate at which product cycles are shrinking, how will an enterprise manage to keep pace as newer devices keep coming into the workplace? After all, the flexibility offered by the BYOD trend is what keeps the trend fueled and makes higher productivity possible.
Policies: The proliferation of personal devices is likely to prove a nightmare for policy managers. According to the IDC report, 69% of respondents said they could access non-work-related websites, while only 44% of their employers report this to be the case. Will this gap grow, setting off security concerns? How will password and login policies be managed? Will encryption of company data on personal devices become mandatory? Will sync parsing be enforced to control types of data being synched between enterprise assets and personal devices? Policy engines will need a thorough examination and new frameworks put in place. These frameworks will need to address device requirements as also factor in the mindset of the younger generation using these devices in the workplace, ensuring flexibility without compromising security.
It is a tough balancing act for IT to perform. The devices and apps that will find favor will be those that create work-life balance keeping in mind the needs of the consumer as well as the enterprise.
However, not all solutions are rocket science. Blackberry Balance is a technology illustrative of how the needs of employees and employers are recognized and managed. Blackberry Balance, released earlier this year, allows users to deal with work and personal activities without compromising safety and security. It allows IT managers to disable functions and capabilities such as copying corporate data to a personal e-mail account or prevent the data from being used on personal apps. When employees leave, company data can be remotely deleted from the personal device, without affecting any of the devices functionalities.
As devices make it easier for consumers to manage licensing, interoperability, security, and policy they will find increased acceptance within the workplace. It is apparent that while enterprises seek to get closer to solutions in managing mobile end-point needs, manufacturers and developers must seek to get closer to the mobile consumer.
The author is director, enterprise sales, India, Research In Motion (RIM)