IT’s all grown up

I have been thinking and writing about the consumerisation of enterprise technology: the trend for people to use their own devices for work purposes and bring the latest cool gadgets into the workplace. The fact that cutting-edge technology has become affordable and hits the shops before it reaches the enterprise has led businesses away from a ‘nanny state’ mentality whereby IT departments chose and distributed smartphones and laptops and blocked people from accessing social networks via work PCs to what could be perceived as a free market in workplace technology. Nowadays many organisations encourage people to use their own devices and develop and leverage social networking connections for business purposes.

Of course, workplace technology isn’t actually a free market. Businesses are required to protect their corporate data and comply with rules and regulations so it is only reasonable that people who use their own equipment are required to sign up to a usage policy. This commonly includes the ability for the business to remotely wipe smartphones and other devices in the event that they are lost or stolen, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who backs up regularly, and to monitor communications sent and received on their behalf.

The upside is that IT departments are increasingly supporting people who wish to use their own technology for work. This can take the form of helping people access the system via Citrix, virtualisation or an app. It can involve establishing/hosting a user community – a collaborative space where people can share their experiences and collectively resolve common issues as they arise.  

Consumerisation can be a win-win situation, where sophisticated users (geeks?) who replace their equipment more often than is practically possible for an entire enterprise and who always have the very latest smartphone or tablet are in effect a pilot study for the rest of the business. Sometimes a trend will catch on; sometimes it won’t.  IT decision makers can use these ‘power users’ to help them make sensible purchasing and leasing decisions for the rest of the business while keeping an eye on the future.

Much has been written about the potential security implications, focusing on legal and illegal monitoring and hacking, particularly in the light of recent headlines. For businesses, this comes down to managing risk, and there are plenty of data security consultants out there.

But the greatest risk is careless user behaviour, and people who have invested their own time and money in the devices they use are more likely to take care of them and use them effectively, just as people who are trusted to choose the devices and collaboration platforms that best suit the way they work tend not to abuse this freedom, but rather to live up to the expectation that they will use them responsibly. 

A significant positive outcome of consumerisation is the shift in the relationship between IT departments and users from a (strict) parent-child relationship based on making and enforcing rules to a grown-up partnership based on mutual respect. IT’s all grown up.


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