Employees today want to use the same technology devices at work during the day that they play with at home at night. And management is beginning to buy in to the notion. Is this the end of the world as we know it for information technology departments?
Yes, and that's a good thing, according to IT pros. The old command and control rules don’t apply in a "bring your own device" world. And companies and their employees and their customers are the beneficiaries of this brave new world.
"Companies should absolutely not accept this trend, "said Ken Singer, CEO and founder of AppCentral, which sets up self-service mobile applications stores for companies. "They should embrace it."
Many IT departments brought this on themselves by dragging their feet and playing an obstructionist role. According to Forrester Research, 36 percent of employees said their company doesn't provide the technology they need to do their job.
That same survey showed that 37 percent of workers have used their own PC or smartphone for work and 26 percent have used their own money to buy software or other technology they thought they needed for work.
Part of this paradigm shift is generational. Younger workers have grown up using technology that usually works without breaking a sweat. They don't want to hear about the challenges of the old command-line days.
"It's a shift in generations," said Nicholas Arvanitis, principal security consultant for Dimension Data Americas, a multibillion dollar IT services and solutions provider. "It's technology they've grown up with."
It's part of a rewritten compact between employees and companies.
New deal between employees and employers
"This is the deal I've struck with the organization," said Arvanitis. "I'll do the work, but these are the devices I want to use."
It allows many organizations to reshape how they provide services, he said, and allows them to be more innovative in how they conduct their businesses.
Distributed workers and the growing use of mobile devices are playing a large role in driving this, Arvanitis said. IT departments are beginning to embrace employees bringing their own devices.
"Workers are a lot more productive and it reduces some monetary and management overhead," he said.
"It's almost unstoppable."
Accelerating the trend is the growing predominance of Web-based applications and device agnostic systems, said James Gudeli, vice president of Kerio Technologies, which provides corporate messaging systems. That, along with multiplatform or cross-platform applications, is making interoperability an increasingly less relevant issue.
"It's not so much about maintaining control; it's about maintaining business continuity and availability," Gudeli said. "Is it all about controlling people or enabling people to be productive? If people are forced to use a tool that's difficult or unattractive, they're going to resent it."
Better, cheaper, faster
Heterogeneous systems are here to stay, he said. Consumer technology tends to be more cost-efficient and there's a lot more awareness of new technologies.
"In the long run, off-the-shelf tends to be a lot cheaper," he said.
"People learned how to use the technology they have at work at home," said Dave Wolf, vice president of strategy for Cynergy, a software developer. "They've gotten used to a consumer-level experience. It's the technology they want to use. And it's cheaper in the long run for IT in terms of maintaining inventory."
The push for productivity is also playing a key role, said Wolf. IT departments are beginning to rethink the role they play in companies and are asking themselves if their job is to set rules or motivate people and get them to use things.
"When you want to use something, you're more engaged and more productive," he said.
New role for IT
It also represents a revision of the compact between IT and the corporation, he said.
"At the end of the day, it's a customer-service relationship," Wolf said.
Wolf first began seeing signs of the consumerization of IT about 18 to 24 months ago. First, it was the devices themselves. Today, he said, companies are creating their own internal app stores.
"Instead of forcing software down people's throats, why don't we give them options?" he asked.
The users feel like they have a choice and the company feels safe, he said. App stores provide feedback and help the company produce better products which increases productivity.
"I think the security issue is pretty easily controlled," he said.
Paying the piper
As for the devices themselves, Wolf said, they may go the way of the company car. Twenty-five years ago it wasn't unusual for a worker to be given a company car. It's unheard of today; the company reimburses employees for business use of their cars.
The same usage and reimbursement model could hold true for technology that workers bring to the job.
"I think it'll be reasonably common," Wolf said.
But there are concerns that need to be addressed. Companies can't afford for their IT departments to become complete adhocracies that run around putting out brush fires while the forest burns.
Keep in mind
To keep your IT environment from going totally rogue and spinning off into unmanageable chaos, you need to make sure that the rules of the road about policies, compliance and access levels are in place, said Arvanitis at Dimension Data Americas.
"You need to understand user cases and their impact," he said. "This is where the entire corporate conversation should begin. This should be the starting point driving any technology solution."
Two other elements to consider are how the company is going to manage allowed devices and how it is going to control the applications that are installed.
"It's easy to go out and install apps," said Arvanitis. "Applications are the weakest security link."
A taste of tomorrow
Where's this all headed? If you want a taste of a wholly open environment, you should visit Resource Interactive, a 350-employee digital marketing company based in Columbus, Ohio, with offices there and in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Palo Alto.
Employees can pick their own platform (Mac versus PC) and whether they would prefer a laptop or desktop, said Chris Berk, Resource's IT director. The company also pays for mobile devices and provides a monthly stipend for data charges and connection fees. Users can pick from iPhone, Android or Blackberry smartphones.
"That's an extremely successful program," Berk said. "We have near 100 percent participation. In our space, it's important to have exposure to what technologies are out there. There's no excuse for not understanding what an iPhone or iPad can do."
To encourage the exploration of new technologies, Resource has a loaner equipment program, Berk said. Employees can check out devices and play around with them to see what they can do.
"It's no different from checking out a book at the library," Berk said.
Several times a year, Berk and his 10-person support organization hold technology road shows at the company's office using the loaner devices.
With any new technology, there is a learning curve. At Resource, some of that learning takes place on company time and some takes place on the employee's own time.
"There is an investment on the associates' side," said Berk. "There are definitely additional costs associated with this diversity. The cost is offset by the value the business gets out of it."
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