Four Ways to Transform the Consumerization of IT

Daniel Burrus

It used to be that any change in an organization would flow from the top down—from the executives to the front line workers. But today, especially when it comes to the consumerization of IT, the change process is quite different. What we have been seeing in the past few years is a “bottom-up” approach, where the end user (the employee) is pressuring the C-suite leaders to change. This new paradigm is extremely disruptive for the leaders. Not only is the change coming in the opposite direction from what the executives are used to, but it’s also coming so fast that many leaders are unsure what to do.

What’s really behind this consumerization of IT trend? In a word…mobility. Because of advances in bandwidth, storage, and processing power, the tools an average consumer can purchase are extremely powerful. Even as recent as five years ago, technology tools for the consumer weren’t that impressive and didn’t have much business application. As such, leaders simply had to make mandates like “no video games on your work computer” or “don’t bring your personal computer or outside CD-ROMs to work,” and the problem was solved (or so they thought).

But that was then, and this is now. Today the average person can purchase, understand, and easily implement an array of new technologies designed to make work and life easier. Consider this. A recent survey found that…

-45 percent of employees felt that their personal consumer devices and software are more useful than the tools and applications provided by their IT departments.

-43 percent of employees felt comfortable and capable in making their own purchasing decisions to apply technology tools for work.

-27 percent were willing to pay for their own devices and applications to use at work.

Now here’s what’s really eye-opening: Only 27 percent of executives have begun to address the consumerization issue in a structured way. Now it’s easier to see why the consumerization of IT trend is so disruptive.

Realize that this trend is not just in the United States; it’s global. In fact, the leaders in the consumerization trend are China and India, followed by Brazil and Mexico. In other words, it’s spreading and growing rapidly. So if you’re one of the 73 percent of executives who has not addressed this trend yet, you need to do so now.

The Big Boost
What really gave the consumerization of IT a big push was Apple with their game-changing iPhone and iPad. Apple took the concept of a smartphone and raised it to a new level. Additionally, it launched the mobile apps trend, which also started as a consumer oriented offering rather than a business one. Now, with an iPhone or iPad, consumers could have a true multimedia computer in their hand. Of course, competitors quickly came and launched even more consumer oriented powerful tools, making the trend grow quickly.

Armed with these new tools and the widespread deployment of 3G and 4G wireless, improvements in WiFi, and access to the cloud, employees quickly realized, “My personal technology is better than what my employer gives me to use. By using the device I want to use, I can be more productive. And I can use amazingly powerful software tools in the form of apps that are inexpensive or free. They’re easy to install, powerful, and focused. If I don’t like one, I can easily uninstall it with the push of a button.” From the employee’s perspective, they know their job and what they need to do better than anyone in IT, so why shouldn’t they decide what tools they use and how they use them? From an IT perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that perception is reality to employees.

The “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend is continuing to grow fast! In a Unisys-sponsored research study of 2,660 information workers, researchers found that employees are bringing personal devices into the enterprise at an increasing rate. In fact, 40 percent of the devices they use to access business applications are personally owned—that’s a 10 percentage point increase from the previous survey year.

Additionally, the survey concurred with my statement that the increasing penetration of consumer technology in the enterprise is being driven by a desire for mobility. According to the findings, 65 percent of employees surveyed said that mobile devices such as laptops, smart phones, and tablets were their most critical devices for doing work in 2012, and even more so in 2013.

Despite this growing awareness, however, the research found that IT departments are falling further behind in the consumerization race. For example, employees report using their mobile devices for business purposes at twice the rate that IT executives believe to be the case (69 percent usage reported by employees versus 34 percent usage reported by IT executives). In addition, 44 percent of employees report using social media for customer communication, while only 28 percent of employers believe that to be the case.

Stop Reacting and Start Anticipating
Unfortunately, most IT departments tend to be reactionary. They didn’t anticipate the consumerization of IT trend even though it was relatively easy to see. And when it hit in full force, they became crisis managers rather than opportunity managers. They viewed the consumerization of IT as a threat and tried to protect and defend the company and the network, never realizing that the consumerization of IT is a Hard Trend. It’s not here today and gone tomorrow; it’s here today and accelerating tomorrow. Why? Because the trifecta of bandwidth, storage, and processing power is continuing to march on, giving us even more powerful tools in the consumer market in an inexpensive way…and very quickly.

If you’re ready to stop reacting and start seeing the opportunity staring at you right now, here are some steps you can take to turn the consumerization of IT trend into your company’s competitive advantage.

  1. Start a dialogue. The benefits of the consumerization of IT are clear: It provides greater business agility, faster problem solving and innovation, increased collaboration, increased communication, higher productivity, and overall improved employee satisfaction because people are using the devices they want to use. Additionally, your Gen-Y and Gen-X employees are very techno-savvy and need to use what they consider to be the newest devices so they can feel empowered. All employees like to feel empowered, and the consumerization of IT is empowering the worker. Therefore, survey the people in your own company and find out what’s working and what’s not working for them technologically. Learn what technologies they are using and trying, and then ask them such things as, “How are you using the device or technology when you travel?” “What do you wish you had that we don’t currently provide?” and “What tools do you think are best?” In other words, start the dialogue. Engage your employees so they see IT as a strategic resource rather than a deterrent to technological innovation.
  2. Spur innovation with BYOD. You and I both know that no matter what policies you enact to keep outside technologies away from the enterprise, the employees are going to buy them and bring them into work anyway. So instead of defaulting to “no” when something new comes out, encourage your people to bring their new device to IT to look at it, track it, and provide suggestions for how the company can use it. After all, the next new device may have a huge business use. And if your people are using it, you want to know how they’re using it so you can replicate their successes with the technology company-wide. So rather than have employees hide their technology tools from you (which makes IT out to be the “bad guys”), strive to co-create the future with the staff.
  3. Create a list of recommendations to help employees make an informed decision. After your IT staff analyzes the potential tools, create a list of the ones you recommend employees use, even though the company does not supply that particular item. In other words, if someone wants to get a tablet, an ultra-light laptop, a smart phone, or even an app, they can go to IT and see which ones IT recommends and why. This approach puts you in collaboration with the employees and elevates IT to the status of a trusted advisor.
  4. Help your employees stay safe. Implement tools to help secure consumer technology, and create secure doorways of entry for your staff. Again, your employees are going to find their own ways around any security features you enact on the network. So why not create a path, a “doorway,” to help them get in and work in a secure and productive way. A few years ago, you had to build your own, today there are a number of great options for any size organization.

Opportunity Awaits
The consumerization of IT and BYOD strategies brings change into the organization from a different direction. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can become more innovative and opportunity focused when you lead the change by embracing the trend rather than fighting it. It’s time to stop enforcing the status quo as so many are still doing, and instead look at the new consumer-focused devices and tools from a business perspective. When you anticipate what your employees want and need to do their jobs better and then devise smart and flexible policies for managing and securing those technologies, you’ll find that the consumerization of IT can unlock new opportunities and revenue streams for your organization.

Daniel Burrus, one of the world's leading technology forecasters, business strategists, and author of several books 
Copyright 2013. Author retains copyright. All Rights Reserved.

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