Consumerisation: working smarter

Emily Carlisle

August 11, 2011

In years gone by the computer you used at work would be state-of-the-art, and the average consumer would struggle to buy a home PC which was half as powerful.

But times have changed and nowadays we’re all reliant on technology to make our personal lives run more efficiently.

Unless you work in IT, the chances are your home set up is light years ahead of anything you’re issued with at work, and you’ll have more gadgets in your home tech arsenal than in your office.

This natural trend has resulted in a massive shift towards consumerisation; an IT phenomenon which sees consumer technology spreading into the business world.

The gradual trend towards consumerisation in the earlier part of this decade took a sharp upturn with the launch of the iPad, now an essential business tool for many of its users.

By the end of 2013 there will be 120 million more smart phones and tablets shipped than PCs, with at least 1.3 million smart phone apps, compared to just 75,000 for PCs. For the first time, developments in consumer technology are driving business activity.

Think about your most valuable work tools. Email? Your diary? Unless you’re tied to your desk all day, and can easily shut up shop at five on the dot, you’ll need to manage your affairs on the go, which means relying on your iPhone, your Blackberry, your PalmPre.

With work/life balance uppermost in all our minds, the use of consumer tech to manage our affairs means simple synchronisation of home diaries and work commitments.

Media networks developed for social use, such as Facebook, Twitter and now Google+, have become invaluable tools for organisations looking to extend their reach. Such networks go hand in hand with intuitive, on-the-go technology.

So far, so simple. But what’s the impact on organisations of this explosion of personal devices? Well, there are recognised benefits. Aside from supporting a positive work/life balance, organisations report increased productivity and an upturn in workforce mobilisation.

Staff feel more valued, those individuals who prefer to work from home are better connected, and because employees are using consumer tech they’re familiar with, there is limited impact on corporate IT support.

This ‘self help’ approach was emphasised at a round table held recently by Vodafone Global Enterprise. “If they can’t figure it out, they won’t pick up the phone but will ask a colleague or Wiki it,” confirmed Bryan Littlefair, Chief Information Security Officer at Vodafone Group.

But the consumerisation trend comes at a cost, and it’s a price which is hard to pin down. In these days of belt-tightening and transparency of accounts, how can a company manage its IT costs when they don’t have total ownership?

The bottom line is that organisations are having to recognise the soft benefits of personal smart devices, even if there’s no tangible cost benefit identified.

“There is a finite pool of talent out there,” said Paul Domnick, Chief Information Officer at leading international law firm, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. “If we are to attract and engage the best staff, we must not put barriers in the way of enabling personal devices in the work environment.”

The hottest topic within the consumerisation arena is that of security. Data protection challenges must be robustly defended, and risks of data loss minimised.

“The risk of reputational damage as a result of intentional or unintentional data loss is the most important thing to the enterprise,” said Bryan Littlefair.

The solution is unanimously accepted; the data itself must be protected. “Until now what we have typically done has been to take the easier route and protect the infrastructure, the systems and the device,” admitted Paul Domnick. Clearly this has to change.

So what can you expect as a consumer? Well, the trend looks set to continue, with the emphasis on cloud technology making it ever more attractive to work remotely.

iPad apps such as KeyNote and PowerPresenter are so slick and intuitive that an organisation which tried to bar its use would be scoring a significant own goal.

Businesses need to embrace consumerisation and make it work for them, with secure data management methods and company policies which support and encourage employee-owned devices.

According to Nicholas McQuire, Research Director at global market intelligence specialist IDC, organisations who fail to exploit consumerisation are simply “bury[ing] their heads in the sand”.


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