Breaking Business Barriers: Consumerization Benefits Include Reduced Costs, Higher Productivity

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While the convergence of consumer and enterprise technology seems inevitable, it is difficult to underestimate the tectonic shift it represents for IT professionals.

Anyone who has tracked the corporate use of technology over the last half century is keenly aware of the historical and intractable delineation between users and IT.  From the earliest days, the principal mandate has been to keep an impenetrable moat of security and control around the company’s technology infrastructure. Conventional wisdom held that if IT did not carefully screen, approve and hold sway over both the hardware and software, chaos would surely reign.

Over the past decade, however, and especially since Apple forever altered the marketplace with a series of breakthrough mobile devices, employees have zealously insisted on having a say in the tools they use for both work and personal life. And savvy CIOs are aware that this is a parade they must lead or be bypassed completely.

“What we have seen is that in most firms, IT was still saying it will still only officially support BlackBerrys,” said Christian Kane, an analyst with Forrester Research. “But what was happening was that C-level executives–CEOs, CFOs, COOs–started getting iPhones and iPads for Christmas and bringing them into the office and asking IT for support. Those aren’t people IT can say no to.

These corporate VIPs are really engaged with these devices and see the power and potential they offer, and they see how many people around them are using these devices in their lives. So they are pushing IT to find a way to support them.”

The numbers tell a key part of the story. In 2011, the number of smart phones sold around the globe leaped by 61 percent, up to nearly 500 million. Apple has sold well in excess of 100 million iPhones since its introduction in 2007.  Since 2010, sales of tablets skyrocketed by 261 percent, up to 63 million sold in 2011.  Apple, in just two years, has sold more than 55 million iPads and in recent quarters, it has shipped more tablets than any of its competitors’ most popular laptops. With Apple introducing new iPads and other manufacturers pouring Android devices into the mix, the growth in the market for new consumer devices shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

And why should it?  Employees, at the end of the day, are consumers. An iPhone may be received as a holiday gift rather than from IT, but its impact is the same. If it does the job better than anything on IT’s list of approved devices, the company-sponsored Blackberry will end up in the desk drawer.

Adding to the chaos for IT is the number of devices it must support. A Forrester Research survey revealed that 74 percent of workers used two or more devices for work and 52 percent used three or more systems.

Consumerization’s New World Order

Far-sighted (or frugal) employers already embrace consumerization. Not only do most employees buy their own devices and pay for their own data plans, thus reducing IT costs significantly, but it ensures a productivity boost with a non-stop, uninterrupted connection to the workplace. CEOs are thrilled to know their employees are always plugged in regardless of time or location.  

Still, there are some political hurdles to overcome as IT adapts to the new order of things, notes said Nathan Clevenger, an analyst with ITR Mobility, a management and IT consulting firm in Mendota, MN and author of the book  iPad in the Enterprise: Developing and Deploying Business Applications

“If you peel back the layers of consumerization, it really boils down to a power struggle.   Even when BYOD hasn’t been instituted, there is an incredibly high level of power that the consumers are affecting and IT is feeling,” he said. 

Consumerization and freedom of device choice has become such a hot button issue that some employees rate the flexibility of choosing their own device higher than a better salary.  A recent Cisco-sponsored survey of 3000 college students and young end users revealed that two out of five would “accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.”  The idea that young workers prefer a pay cut to giving up their technology of choice represents a staggering new reality for corporate IT.

Young workers “no longer think of technology as personal versus professional,” notes BYOD expert Clevenger.   They want their technology to easily blend with their personal and professional lives and prefer not to juggle devices on both sides of the fence.  “Technology is now part of a lifestyle which is why it’s so important.”

One other factor pushing consumerization is that technology and devices has suddenly become more personal, with many users fostering both business and lifestyle relationship with their systems.

When IT was simply handing out approved laptops to a company’s employees, there were few personal feelings attached to the hardware or the operating system.  But, those days of the cold corporate mandate are quickly fading.  “That train has left the station,” says Dan Croft, president and CEO of Mission Critical Wireless, a wireless computing consulting firm.  “We’re starting to see a much more adult relationship between users and IT.”  Previously, “IT would dictate and say ‘Here’s how you will behave and if you misbehave, you go to bed without dinner.’ There is no going back to that world.”

An Applications Approach to Security

Despite the changing dynamics, however, security and support are paramount for IT, regardless of the chosen device. Nightmare scenarios of mobile devices holding essential corporate data being left inadvertently on a plane or in the backseat of a cab require the ability to harden these devices in a secure environment.

SNR Denton, a large law firm based in Chicago, took significant steps to provide unassailable security before the Apple iPhone was added to the law firm’s approved device list, notes Andrew Jurczyk, Global Chief Information Officer at the company.  “When we launched, we wrote our own security certificate. We hardened the device beyond what came out of the box,” he explained. “A lot of people in IT struggle with that but it’s not really that difficult.”

Using Microsoft’s ActiveSync to synchronize data with mobile devices, SNR Denton employees get prompted through passwords in order to connect to the firm’s network via VPN, virtual private network.  The company also built an infrastructure for mobility. “It’s the key to supporting consumerization,” Jurczyk said.  “We use a virtual desktop, be it Citrix or VMWare, which allows access to the corporate desktop from any browser. As long as your browser supports the VDI client, you’re in. The same security protocols hold.”

But not everyone in IT is as sanguine about security.  Clevenger sees a shift in trends, from securing everything at the device level, as IT had done with Windows laptops and BlackBerry’s, to securing and managing the applications instead. “Even with mobile device management solutions, they are not exact apples to apples comparisons to the traditional device management solutions IT professionals have grown accustomed to,” he said.

In fact, Apple and Google with the Android operating system have restricted management APIs to a subset that includes some fundamental constraints to securing the device, Clevenger added. “The reason Apple leads the way with this was to ensure that the user experience they worked so hard to create and maintain isn’t interfered with by a managing organization,” he pointed out.

“The trend is to manage and secure these devices as best they can but don’t trust the device. Instead, move a lot of the traditional authentication, authorization and communication security from the device level to the app level and design the app to be as secure as possible. This really lays the groundwork for the blending of personal and professional technology.”

However security and support is handled, Jurczyk expects to see an explosion of consumer devices such as the iPad, sweeping into the enterprise. For those who worry about the distractions afforded by many of these devices as a potential impediment to productivity, Jurczyk takes a pragmatic view.

“As a law firm, we have a billable hour requirement, and if you don’t meet that requirement, you don’t get compensated,” he said. “And when you are under that kind of pressure and putting in those kinds of hours, sometimes you just need to disconnect for a few minutes and play Angry Birds, or look at pictures of your kids or listen to some music.  It’s necessary.”

“And if IT doesn’t approve that device,” he points out, “people will just bring in one that does anyway. You might as well consolidate technology for your people.”

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