Meeting the consumerisation challenge

The marriage of consumer devices, app stores and the cloud with a technically proficient workforce signals a tipping point after which consumer IT will fundamentally transform enterprise IT.

Learning how to harness this change, instead of fighting it, will be key to the success of CIOs in the coming years.
 
According to research by Accenture, almost half (45 per cent) of employees say their personal equipment is more useful than the tools provided by their IT department.

One-quarter (27 per cent) believe this so strongly they would even be prepared to pay for their own devices and applications to use at work.

This clear enthusiasm for technology should be a positive force. A large portion of employees now feel capable of making their own technology decisions for work, showing greater technological empowerment than ever before.

There is also an increasing trend towards employee driven technological innovation, where employees come up with their own consumer technology solution to help solve business problems.
 
However, while personal devices are liberating workers, they pose a significant challenge to IT departments.

While sales managers across organisations are using their personal iPad to access corporate tools, IT managers are working hard to protect corporate data and intellectual property, and ensure compliance.

A typical IT department is challenged to deal with this swift consumer technology lifecycle that is far shorter than the enterprise IT one.

It is not surprising that half (51 per cent) of those surveyed by Accenture found their IT department to be non-responsive to their technology needs.

So how should a CIO respond?
To date there has been a lot of ad hoc decision making about point-problems: whether to let employee phones onto your corporate Wi-Fi or whether to allow access to Dropbox.

This response is unsustainable for any sizable business, especially one alive to the opportunities that consumerisation brings. Instead a more strategic approach is needed.

  - Free-for-all: A strategy at one extreme is the anarchy approach. Here your organisation encourages creativity and innovation by giving employees the maximum freedom of choice.

This could reduce IT spend, as employees purchase, and support, their own devices.

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These gains may come at the expense of data security, standardization and compatibility. 

 - Clampdown: At the other extreme is an authoritarian 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 tight policing.
 
 - Benevolent guidance: The path we recommend is one of managed adoption. This exploits the benefits of anarchy and authority but minimizes their drawbacks.

The first step is to learn just how extensively consumer IT has embedded itself into your workforce, and to gain a deep 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.

Only once the business knows what employees really need can the scope of allowable devices and applications be broadened.

Organisations could see 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.

Kevin Campbell is group chief executive of Technology at Accenture

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