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​Coming to terms with bring your own (enterprise) apps

​Coming to terms with bring your own (enterprise) apps

As cloud technology evolved, it is the apps which are now disrupting the activities of centralised IT.

Many a strategic CIO will be judged on how well he or she empowers the individual employee.
Many a strategic CIO will be judged on how well he or she empowers the individual employee.

One element that makes life challenging for the strategic CIO is that technology adaptation outside the organisation is faster than inside it.

It is a curious phenomenon for employees to experience a step back in time when they go to work. Because people are purpose seeking and look for fulfilment in their jobs, they bring their personal devices to work. This opens them up to the pejorative term ‘shadow IT’ by technologists who favour a centralised and rules based response to modern technological challenges.

Paying attention to language will help the CIO get a handle of who in their teams has more clarity on the situation. There will be those who talk about needing to get on top of the BYOD 'problem'. They will cite (entirely reasonable) concerns around integration and security as critical drivers. There will be others who realise that the time for managing BYOD was about five years ago. That was when forward thinking organisations started coming to grips with the implications of BYOD. These organisations gradually came to focus on a specific class of device: the keypadless smartphone.

The reason was because these devices were vectors for apps. As cloud technology evolved, it is the apps which are now disrupting the activities of centralised IT. This gives us a good sense of the speed of technological change in organisations. It has taken just five years for what seemed like a useful term to become misleading. It’s not a case of getting on top of BYOD but of coming to terms with BYOA (bring-your-own-apps).

The best play for the strategic CIO is to encourage development of these apps on the innovative periphery of her organisation.

Rohan Light, decisv


Thinking in terms of disruptive hardware within the enterprise is on the wrong side of simplistic. It is a point developed by Ovum Research Analyst Adam Holtby in his March 2016 report ‘Making the Most of Mobile Enterprise ‘Soldier’ Apps’;

“The common enterprise mobility narrative has recently switched from a device-centric discussion to one that is application-centric. It is apps, not devices, that offer the greatest potential to transform business and IT operations.”

Keeping track of devices helped compliance minded technologists because at least they were tangible. But keeping track of apps, particularly those delivered by vendors as part of a SaaS consumerisation strategy, is nigh impossible. Remember also that these apps are used by employees in pursuit of business objectives. They are acting in response to a lack of available capability at the enterprise level. These people were hired to do a job and bringing their own technology is both rational and responsible.

This points to the basic reality that digital transformation is about people not technology. Holtby states:

“The primary drivers of BYOA are employees wanting to find easier ways to communicate with colleagues and share documents between the different devices that they use – something that also demonstrates the prevalence of multiscreening behaviour within organisations.”

Holtby's ‘soldier apps’ have a focused and niche business value proposition. The best play for the strategic CIO is to encourage development of these apps on the innovative periphery of her organisation. This means helping their people come to terms with a different role in relation to evolution of technology within the enterprise.

Read more: The strategic CIO

Holtby adds:

“It is unrealistic for IT departments to have an awareness of all the soldier apps required throughout an organisation – adopting an approach that encourages this level of centralisation and control actually risks reducing the benefits associated with a soldier app estate. Instead, IT departments must ensure strong business collaboration and engagement, not in an attempt to elicit a level of unrealistic and unsustainable control and management but to ensure that teams looking to develop soldier apps are correctly empowered with supportive technology and practices.”

The productivity potential of the connected, networked and empowered modern professional is immense. Many a strategic CIO will be judged on how well he or she empowers the individual employee.

However, functional dysfunction and managerial control are problems for the strategic CIO wishing to invest in building soldier apps. The formal ideas coming out of customer facing business units may be quite unsuited to contributing to long term-digital transformation.

This goes to the role that technologists can play in the evolving digital world. Because IT is something we all do, technologists have an important role in education, facilitation and avocation of new ways of working.

In this sense, building, deploying and managing enterprise apps provide the basis for how an organisation teaches itself to be digitally effective. Holtby states:

Read more: Glen Willoughby: Today’s CIOs wield revolutionary tools

“The mechanisms and practices involved in building an understanding of how an application can help employees in their day-to-day duties should be utilized on an ongoing basis as opposed to only during the initial development stage. Specifically, it is very important to understand how user needs change and how an app may need to evolve in order to continue to offer value.”

These ‘changing users’ are often figuring out better applications of technology in relation to getting the job done than the people whose job it is to do so. As Nilofer Merchant wrote in an August 2013 article for Wired “technology was meant to connect us, yet it more often it disconnects us”. As Holtby notes, people are bringing apps into the workplace to better communicate with colleagues. Merchant,

“Ultimately, it’s the absence of a device that lets me be present and listen with full attention. I believe this attention is the currency of our current work/life era; what efficiency was to the industrial era, relationships are to the social era.”

In this sense, the role soldier apps play is in providing employees with a finer grain of collaboration on work issues. This becomes about technology supporting emergent human behaviour in the workplace. Identifying where on the innovating periphery people are building more effective work habits and processes is a critical task for the strategic CIO. This is where there is as much call for effective anthropology as technology, as Merchant writes in her closing paragraph,

“I’m not arguing that we should ditch technology in the workplace, or for our meetings. Technology has its place in work; of course it does. But as with all things, technology should be there to support human connection — not get in the way of it.”

Read more: Digital transformation must move beyond the hiring of a CDO

Rohan Light (Rohan@decisv.xyz ) worked at the enterprise level in Inland Revenue in a series of specialised roles in the risk, design, portfolio management and business group domains. He began to be consulted by business people on issues of strategy, management and execution, which led to the formation of Decisv. His formal strategy work led to teaching strategic thinking as an Associate at VUW’s Professional and Executive Development.

He cofounded the Enterprise Analytics Forum, a community of practice that meets to discuss issues relating to the fundamental challenges analytics poses to pre-digital business models. He extended his involvement in the analytics sector when he was appointed Chairman of the SAS Users of New Zealand.


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