Chasing the BYOD hurricane

With consumer devices getting smaller, cheaper and faster IT departments need to get more responsive to the needs of their employees and a managed adoption approach could hold the answer.

The other day, I watched the COO of a large Australian company write meeting minutes in Evernote on his iPad. We used to think of the ‘app intrusion’ as driven by Gen-Y Facebook users tweeting when they should be working but the issue has now gone mainstream.

Our research shows that 45 per cent of employees rate their personal equipment more useful than the tools provided by IT and what user would argue? Having your iPhone on the network, abandoning PowerPoint for Prezi, or using Dropbox to work collaboratively can all provide great user productivity boosts. One quarter of employees (27 per cent) believe this so strongly that they would be happy to pay for their own tools.

We believe that the mashup of consumer devices, applications, cloud technology and a tech-savvy workforce signals a tipping point for enterprise IT. From here on in, consumer IT will fundamentally impact the corporate technology agenda. Learning how to harness this change, instead of resisting it, will be key to the success of CIOs.

The trouble is, that while new tools & devices are delighting workers, they can create headaches for IT departments. Your sales managers may be using their personal iPads to access corporate tools, but your IT managers are working overtime to protect corporate data and intellectual property. Sound familiar? IT faced similar challenges five or six years ago in relation to web access.

Every year consumer devices get smaller, cheaper, faster and more useful – with almost all applications now delivered over the Internet. The consumer technology lifecycle is shorter than the enterprise IT one – a fact that results in consumers being inside corporate decision loops. Given this, it is not surprising that half of consumers in our survey found their IT department “non-responsive” to their technology needs.

So how should a CIO react? To date there has been a lot of ad hoc management: “Should we let employee phones onto our corporate Wi-Fi?” or “Should we ‘allow’ access to Dropbox?” The sheer quantity of these calls makes a piecemeal approach unsustainable for any sizable business. Particularly one that wants to benefit from the trend rather than just manage it. Instead a more strategic approach is needed.

One extreme is to adopt an anarchistic stance. Here your organisation encourages creativity and innovation by giving employees total freedom of choice. This could even reduce IT spend as employees purchase, and support, their own devices. But gains may come at the expense of data security, standardization and compatibility.  At the other extreme is the ‘command & control’ approach. A single organisation-wide standard is put in place for each technology, including email, laptops, mobile phones, tablets and productivity tools. While this sounds neat and tidy, it will be near impossible to implement without costly policing.

The path we recommend is a ‘guerrilla’ approach - one of managed adoption. This exploits the benefits of anarchy and command/control but minimises drawbacks.

The first step is to learn just how extensively consumer IT has been adopted by your workforce, and to gain an understanding of the technologies in use. It is important to segment consumer IT needs by role, developing a usage profile that suits each job description. Employee input needs to be sought here, both to help define the usage scenarios and to start an education process where shared principles can support policy. Once the business understands employee pain points, IT can work to broaden the scope of permissible devices and applications.

Organisations can reap benefits from tailoring policies, implementing controls and educating the workforce. A CIO can also advocate technology choice more positively, perhaps by offering a technology subsidy as a job benefit. Another method is to proactively suggest or provide selected new consumer technologies that will be supported.

Managed adoption is not easy, and consumerisation will present one of the biggest tests for corporate IT executives in the next five years. But embracing it is the only viable option.

We can find ways to channel employee enthusiasm for consumer technology and to develop strategies that will keep them engaged and productive while at the same time safeguarding corporate information.

Jason Juma-Ross is ANZ Managing Director of Accenture Interactive