Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Enter the characters shown in the image.

Consumerization is inevitable: your response is not

Consumerization is inevitable: your response is not
November 9, 2011in Technology2011-11-092013-03-18technologyen
More than 80% of Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. are deploying or piloting iPads, up from 65% in the previous...
consumerization is inevitable: your response is not

The infiltration of the iPad into the boardroom is just another sign of the consumerization of corporate IT. As Jessica Twentyman discovers, some businesses are embracing our favorite consumer applications and devices because they often work better than enterprise tools.

The infiltration of the iPad into the boardroom is just another sign of the consumerization of corporate IT. As Jessica Twentyman discovers, some businesses are embracing our favorite consumer applications and devices because they often work better than enterprise tools.

Since its launch in April 2010, the Apple iPad has defied predictions that its appeal would be limited to a few gadget lovers. It has become a hit among many business executives who view it as a stylish and convenient alternative to lugging around a bulky laptop when sometimes all they need is a tool for email, web browsing and performing simple business tasks. The iPad's success in business circles was clear from Apple's most recent earnings call in January 2011. More than 80% of Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. are deploying or piloting iPads, up from 65% in the previous quarter, according to Apple's Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook.

"Generally, enterprises are much slower and more cautious and use things that have been in the market for a long time," he said. But businesses such as bank Wells Fargo, retailer Sears Holdings and chemical company DuPont already see the value of adopting the iPad as part of their corporate IT kit, he added, "and they're moving fast. So I think we're just scratching the surface right now." Although other end-user organizations are far less eager to buy and support the latest devices, the emerging consensus is that their hard-pressed CIOs may not have much choice in the matter. Whether the corporate IT team is ready for them or not, a growing legion of employees is exercising choice when it comes to the tools and services they use to get their jobs done. They're bringing their own mobile phones, tablet computers and laptops to work and using them to send and receive potentially sensitive business data.

When corporate email systems let them down, they use Google's Gmail or Microsoft's Hotmail as back-up. When the IT team is slow to provision them with applications they need to do their job, they cut out the middle man and sign up for software-as-a-service subscriptions from providers in the cloud. In short, they shop around in increasing numbers for the devices and services that they feel best fit their needs and tasks at hand.

productivity unleashed
There are powerful arguments in favor of this infiltration of consumer-oriented technologies into the workplace. Perhaps the most persuasive is employee productivity, as argued by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, analysts at Forrester Research and co-authors of Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers and Transform Your Business (Harvard Business Press, 2010). In the book, they describe how forward-thinking organizations like Black & Decker and Best Buy are enabling employees to solve "customer and business problems using readily available technology that they master first at home." The theory is that if an organization empowers its workforce to use the tools and services of their own choosing, they'll get more done. If those tools and services are available regardless of location, they'll be productive when traveling, working from home, and meeting customers, too. They'll also be more satisfied, according to a 2010 report, Friendly Takeover: The Consumerization of Corporate IT, from management consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "Companies that can offer an IT environment that embraces this new culture will have an advantage in the fight to hire and retain talented young employees," say its authors. "Ongoing consumer IT initiatives can help companies demonstrate their relevance to employees and increase their trust and goodwill." And over time, the consumerization of IT might even have the potential to lower IT costs, they add: "Reduced capital expenditures are likely as employees turn to their own personal devices to perform work."

unleashed and out of control?
But there are still concerns about "unleashing" employees in this way. It is perhaps employee-owned mobile devices that present IT teams with their most immediate and pressing problem: how can they be expected to support and secure the myriad devices that employees will choose? And what happens if an employee loses an unauthorized device containing corporate data? Already, employee enthusiasm for new devices is far outpacing the ability of enterprises to manage and secure them, according to Nick Jones, an analyst with IT market research firm Gartner. "We believe there's a high risk of significant data-loss events, which may cause a temporary backlash in attitudes to device choice and the use of consumer devices," he says. But that temporary backlash, if it comes, is hardly likely to turn the tide of consumerization. In a November 2010 survey of attendees at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo event in Cannes, respondents expected one in five mobile devices used for business purposes in 2012 to be owned by employees.

They also expect to be supporting an average of 3.3 smartphone or tablet platforms (such as Symbian, Apple's iOS and Android) by next year, he says. That growing diversity of end-user device operating systems is a headache for IT departments when it comes to management tools, according to Bob Tarzey, an analyst with IT research company Quocirca. "The range of vendors offering end-point management tools is as diverse as the end-points themselves," he comments. For that reason, it's a problem that companies will increasingly choose to outsource to managed service providers, he predicts: "Those that come up with solutions the quickest should find a ready market." Either way, CIOs should take one of two paths to accommodate the consumer revolution in corporate IT, say consultants at Booz Allen Hamilton. They can bring employees under the corporate umbrella, allow them to use corporate devices for non-work activities and loosen restrictions on web surfing and social media, all protected by enterprise security controls on the devices. Or, they can reach out to employees and allow them to use their own personal devices for work, perhaps within virtual clients installed on the devices and controlled from the corporate data center. "Either way, companies need to assess carefully their readiness for consumerization, use the results to determine how different groups of employees should make the switch, and set up pilot programs to better understand the effect of consumerization on productivity, security and other factors," they write.

This is a phenomenon that CIOs cannot afford to ignore. As the authors of Empowered say, "Consumerization is inevitable; your response is not."

Jessica Twentyman is an experienced technology and business writer. Her work has appeared in some of the UK's major business and trade titles, including the Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph, Director, Computer Weekly and Personnel Today.


Latest opinions

Subscribe to Real Times

Sign up below to receive our monthly e-newsletter, featuring the latest technology trends.

Register now
Change the display