iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys – oh my (Guest commentary)

Organizations should embrace consumerization of IT in the workplace
By Mark Aboud
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/27/2011

Employees everywhere 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: They’re using cloud computing and social networking to connect, communicate and collaborate. And they’re using third-party consumer apps interchangeably for business and personal use.

What this means is the boundaries between work and personal lives are no longer clearly defined.

One of the biggest challenges for organizations is the consumerization of IT, which basically means consumer technologies are shaping IT strategy in the workplace.

With this device proliferation and explosion in social media comes management headaches for IT departments, which have less control than ever before over the technology being used in the workplace.

Consumerization of IT is going to be one of the hottest trends of this decade, according to research firm Gartner. And many chief information officers (CIOs) say it’s among their top priorities right now. It’s a trend that’s here to stay and an area that should be considered a priority for organizations over the next couple of years.

This was something underscored in the Sept. 12 issue of Canadian HR Reporter (“BYO tech policy a given by 2013: Survey,” page 3), which outlined the results of a poll of 700 IT officers that found 94 per cent of firms worldwide intend to have a formal bring your own technology to work policy in place by 2013.

Research firm Osterman Research, in its 2011 Consumerized IT Security Survey, uncovered similar sentiments — more than 80 per cent of those surveyed are letting employees use consumerized IT products and services for business communications.

But according to research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), many employers don’t seem to know how many consumer technologies are being used in their workplaces — workers report using consumer-driven devices at twice the rate employers say — and they are unaware of what types of devices are being used.

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, according to IDC.

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 to 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.

They have to support myriad devices, including iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and other mobile platforms. They 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 employees can use in the workplace — but this is becoming increasingly harder to enforce.

Even if firms have a policy against the use of personal devices at work, research shows there is 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 because 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 employees to run pretty much any type of mobile device on its infrastructure. And it embraced the iPad, which has given its employees more flexibility.

There are plenty of tools and technologies available that can help manage this rapidly changing environment, but it’s equally important to update an organization’s policies and procedures. Any strategy around consumerized IT should not only include a technology component but employee education and training.

This can help your organization mitigate the risks of consumerized IT, while enhancing productivity and innovation.

Mark Aboud is the Toronto-based president and managing director of SAP Canada.

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