The last 24 months have brought an explosion of new devices, web applications, and social media platforms. With every new product release or social network launch, CIOs are getting pressure from their employees, including senior executives, to open the corporate network to consumer devices and allow access to more of the Web. This migration of consumer devices like smartphones and tablets into enterprise computing is making CIOs very nervous.
The risks to data security are obvious and real, and the loss of control compared to the days when IT departments could pick and choose technologies is distressing. Some CIOs are reacting with bans on the use of employee-owned devices, but this can be counterproductive. The consumerisation of IT is inevitable and likely good for business, even if it has caused some heartburn.
Why inevitable? There are five trends that have brought us to what I see as a point of no return on consumerisation.
1. The rise of social media as a business application. This phenomenon is the traditional enterprise IT killer, not just the killer app. For knowledge workers, social networks have become necessary and ideal tools for building work relationships and conducting business. For example, Dell employed Salesforce.com's Chatter to our more than 90,000 Dell employees. Being able to follow opportunities is a key feature of this application, so social connections literally mean sales connections. Employers need to facilitate this types of social collaboration, not be threatened by it.
2. The blurring of work and home. According to a telecommuting forecast by Forrester, 41 percent of employers plan to implement telecommuting options this year and 43 percent of the American workforce - more than 63 million workers - will telecommute occasionally by 2016. Flexible work arrangements that encourage employees to work from home - or any location - make it difficult to control employee technology usage. IT departments need to develop policies to deliver and secure sensitive data on both IT-owned and employee-owned devices.
3. The emergence of new mobile devices. The mobile era has arrived; by next year global smartphone shipments will exceed personal computer shipments for the first time in history. In the wake of such a seismic shift, employees are showing up to work with their personal devices with increasing frequency. The pressure on IT departments to provide service and support for the employees' devices and applications of choice will be enormous.
4. Shifting business models require tech-savvy employees. Put the rise of social media together with ecommerce and mobile devices, and you get a marketplace in which word of mouth influences buying decisions as much as half the time. According to McKinsey and Company, "word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions." As the control of corporate brands shifts to online conversations outside of the company's purview, organizations will increasingly value employees who can navigate the ecosystem and are influencers in their social networks.
5. Employee expectations of corporate IT are changing. Desirable hires don't want to give up their devices, weakening the recruitment and retention abilities of companies who refuse to accommodate them. Imagine how a 2011 college grad reacts when she arrives at her new desk and turns on her PC to discover that it's running a locked-down version of an operating system that was first released when she was 12.
As these trends collide, consumerisation moves from being something we all have talked about for years to a crucial a business decision. And savvy CIOs are making this a business issue because technology is becoming a talent issue. From recruiting and employee satisfaction, to driving brand reputation, to enabling new business models, employee technology a business issue, not an IT policy debate.
Today's consumerisation trends are yet to peak, which means that the pressure for change in most IT organizations will only intensify. Businesses who react thoughtfully and decisively now will reap benefits for the rest of the mobile era and beyond. How?
Articulate your company's end user workplace and technology philosophy and use that as a basis for setting a consumerisation strategy. Recognize that IT security and data protection policies that restrict the use of personal devices and social media applications may actually increase security and data loss risk. Begin evolving security policies to protect data in a workplace whose employees are using a variety of devices and applications.
Liberalise rules that prohibit business use of employee-owned technology in your own environment, starting with smartphones. Launch enterprise applications that mimic the best aspects of consumer communication and social media within your worker community. Pilot company-paid or employee-owned tablets with field workers and executives to see if they can replace other devices.
Communicate a clear point of view on company versus employee cost-sharing. Develop a business case for incremental investment by linking end user technology strategy with human resource planning, facilities planning, and business strategy. Consider desktop virtualization and other new technologies to reduce security and data loss risks as the demand for consumerisation grows. Confront the software licensing implications of consumerisation to ensure compliance. Finally, avoid end user stipends; the goal is to allow employees to use the devices they already prefer, not to shift the purchasing decision onto them.
The heart of the consumerisation trend is human desire; people want to work the way they live, using the internet to facilitate relationships and communication. It's also the foundation for the next wave of business. Companies that adapt quickly and thoughtfully to change the relationship between employees and the IT department will be better able to attract talent, execute new business models, and enhance competitiveness. So why fight it?
Paul D'Arcy is executive director of Americas marketing for Dell's Public and Large Enterprise business unit. To comment on this article, please email the editor.
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