Is the Consumerization Avalanche Burying Your IT Department?

By  Jessica Binns — July 26, 2011

If 2010 was the year of the iPad, then 2011 is the year of IT consumerization, which—not coincidentally—is being driven by mobile devices such as the popular Apple tablet. Now that smartphones are ubiquitous and tablets are becoming the new PC for many consumers, IT departments can no longer ignore the potential benefits and savings of enabling the use of personal devices in the workplace.
 
IT traditionally has been the guardian of what can and cannot be used within the four corporate walls, according to Nicholas Kontopoulos, director, global marketing, CRM line-of-business customers, SAP. But as knowledge workers proliferate and conduct business on their devices at all hours of the day and night—and in diverse locations, from places of worship to family gatherings to their beds before winding down at night—that control is being wrested from IT’s grasp.
 
A May 2011 IDC study entitled “IT Consumers Transform the Enterprise: Are You Ready?” found that just 19% of the IT decision-makers surveyed can be identified as thought leaders who have proactively taken steps to stay ahead of—and thereby enable—the IT consumerization phenomenon. These decision-makers focus on getting IT to work closely with other business unit decision-makers to integrate consumer devices and technologies into customer-facing applications and enterprise-facing business activities.
 
“Today’s CIOs have an opportunity to both lead business and IT innovation as they help their organizations decide how to best exploit the trend toward consumerization and personalization of IT,” says Crawford Del Prete, chief research officer, IDC.
 
But many IT groups aren’t currently doing enough to facilitate and properly enable consumerization.  
 
Bottom line: consumerization is beneficial
If anything, enterprises should rejoice that their workers are interested in using their personal technologies to be more productive. “Companies are faced with an opportunity and a challenge,” says John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy, Good Technology. “The user is walking a device in the door and the upside is that IT can get that user connected to the network and working more.”
 
IDC’s “2011 Consumerization of IT Study: Closing the Consumerization Gap” shows that employees are using iPads to send and receive business-related texts, e-mails, and Facebook posts in bed (45%), on vacation (62%), in restaurants (58%), on airplanes (45%), in business meetings (73%), and while watching TV (62%).
 
What’s more, workers are demanding mobile applications to help complete transactional tasks such as filling out vacation requests and submitting expense reports, says Kontopoulos, which would provide greater visibility and real-time data for enterprise managers and increase satisfaction among employees.
 
Where IT is failing
Even though IT leaders realize that consumerization essentially is good for business, they are being overwhelmed by the demand for services and access. According to the 2011 Consumerization of IT Study, roughly 80% of IT leaders report that they’re expected to support consumer devices in the enterprise, while the same percentage indicates that the phenomenon is adding to IT’s workload.
 
The report also shows that IT doesn’t always know when workers are using personal devices for business. The study cites 69% of workers reporting personal use of smartphones in the enterprise, while IT leaders indicate that only 34% of workers use the devices for accessing business applications. Similarly, 13% of workers report using tablets for business purposes, but IT believes only 6% are using the devices for enterprise applications. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between perception and reality.
 
What’s the holdup?
IT departments that aren’t enabling consumerization largely are concerned about three factors:
  •  Security (83%)
  • Ineffective policies for device support and lifecycle management (52%)
  • Limited resources (30%)
A full 30% of IT leaders are concerned about the blurring lines between employees’ personal and professional lives and the inability to “turn off” from work.
 
Personal smartphones and tablets were considered to be more of a security threat (5% and 4%, respectively) than enterprise-issued smartphones and tablets. What’s alarming, however, is that while security is top of mind and a healthy number of organizations are proactively doing antivirus updates on smartphones and tablets (90%) and performing automatic backups (59%), there has been a significant drop from 2010 in the businesses that require strong passwords (-10%), train employees on device and data security (-11%), and deliver single sign-on (-23%).
 
“On many occasions, IDC has seen IT managers play the security card when they don’t want to accommodate something new,” authors Frank Gens, Danielle Levitas, and Rebecca Segal write in IDC’s 2011 Consumerization of IT Study. “The range of issues surrounding consumerization of IT is in fact very wide, but security is the bogeyman, both easy to point to and very difficult to argue against.”
 
Supported devices
The study found that BlackBerry continues to be the most enterprise-supported and issued smartphone, with close to 60% of IT leaders citing support for the device. Only 20% of workers cite using personal BlackBerrys for business (with no employer reimbursement). In contrast, 56% and 52% of employees use Android smartphones and iPhones for work (also with no employer reimbursement). A full 51% of surveyed workers are using personal iPads on the job.
 
A plan of action
So how can IT keep up with workers’ demand for consumer technologies? First, IT needs to understand exactly what is going on within its enterprise. Information and technology leaders need visibility into just how many employees are using personal devices; what kinds of devices are being brought into the workplace; and what kinds of applications these employees are most heavily using.
 
Next, work on realigning your policies with reality. IT departments need to break out of their old “control and conquer” mentality and understand that mobile technology—once a sort of status symbol for executives and other high-ranking corporate officials—is a tool for nearly every enterprise employee, and that workers are using these tools whether IT likes it or not. Flexible IT groups that put policies in place to enable consumerization likely will increase employee productivity and satisfaction.
 
Another important step: invest in security solutions that enable a greater level of control over the devices that the enterprise doesn’t own. These include client virtualization as well as container or “sandboxing” solutions, which enable companies to manage specific data on a worker's device without touching the employee's personal information and applications. “The challenge for enterprises is data leakage because of native APIs that interact with a device’s applications, such as the calendar or address book,” says Herrema.
 
Also consider the cloud as a means to support multiple mobile devices. And most important—engage your business unit executives. These fellow leaders can offer unique perspective on how consumer mobile technologies can enable greater efficiencies and unlock untapped business opportunities.
 

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