Over the past few months a lot of people have stood in long queues in the cold to purchase an Apple iPhone, with a plan to make it a ubiquitous part of their everyday life. I wonder how many of them found they had to limit that plan to their every-day non-work, related life because their IT department used cost or security as reasons to say “no” to the enterprise use of this popular consumer tool. In fairness to the IT team, they can never take security issues lightly and they must always be mindful of cost. But when they use security or cost as excuses, instead of having thoughtful reasons why a consumer technology or tool is not allowed, they can do a lot of damage. Many workers are using different consumer technologies in the enterprise because they are easier to use and solve their problems. This use will continue to grow, even if (or maybe especially if) the organisation prohibits it. Monitoring and planning for the introduction of new consumer tools and technologies will likely yield better results than a blanket ban on their use.
Consumerisation versus cost
CIOs often think that consumerisation simply means higher costs for the enterprise. In fact, employee use of consumer technologies may not have a significant impact on direct costs at all, especially if the employee buys the technology himself. Dissatisfied employees can result in indirect costs from inefficiency and potential turnover. Some consumer tools and technologies may provide a “wow” factor that enables employees to create significant value for customers.
Looking at the costs framed within the organisation’s unique circumstances can allow the CIO to get an accurate picture of the true costs of a consumer technology. Start by knowing the financial facts. Although assigning a value to the intangibles is sometimes difficult, providing hard data about cost makes decisions more transparent.
Remember that money isn’t everything when it comes to consumer technology. A consumer device like the iPhone may have a higher total cost of ownership than the enterprise sanctioned solution, but it may also make the worker happier. This user satisfaction may even result in other efficiency cost savings such as faster turnaround times. Consumer technology may also make the enterprise more attractive to a broader pool of workers, such as “digital natives”.
Manage, don’t control
CIOs often believe they need to control all aspects of IT use in the enterprise, which sometimes leads to blanket bans on consumer technology. If CIOs accept the inevitable use of consumer technology, IT departments can stop trying to control and start trying to manage the tools and devices that employees use.
Good policies and procedures can help make the distinction between management and control. Periodic review of those policies and procedures will ensure the enterprise remains flexible and responsive to the needs of an ever-changing environment. Technology innovations in consumer markets are accelerating. Infrequent policy reviews can leave an enterprise even further behind.
Many times CIOs issue directives companywide, without input from the very people who are expected to follow them. Worse still, they are often issued without explanation. Both approaches frustrate employees and perpetuate the feeling of a lack of control and trust. Try some new approaches to reduce these problems:
Understand users’ desires: Resist the urge to be punitive about the perceived misuse of consumer technology. Rather try to find out why employees are using the technology. For example, an employee might use Gmail on the job because the enterprise email storage limit is too small. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity for discipline, the CIO might want to recognise the resourcefulness and the possibility to make changes that can improve capabilities for all.
Grant trust where trust is needed: Have a mechanism to identify consumer technology pioneers who should be encouraged not discouraged. Sanction their experiments and offer help if they need it. This trusting approach may lead to significant business value whilst providing opportunities to people who might otherwise look for ways to violate policies.
Bottom line: CIOs can more effectively handle consumer trends if they stop trying to control the use of consumer technologies and instead develop approaches to manage and use these tools to enhance business value.
Mary Ann Maxwell is Gartner group VP, executive programmes.
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