Forrester to your IT dept: Let them use Macs

Forrester made some waves in the IT world Thursday morning when it released a report strongly urging large enterprise companies to let their employees use Macs (s aapl) at work, or as they phrased it “it’s time to repeal prohibition.” That’s kind of a big deal since the analyst firm has for years recommended the exact opposite. So why the sudden change?

Employees are not only asking IT departments for Macs at work, they’re bringing their own into the office. The Forrester report finds that 22 percent of enterprise businesses foresee the use of Macs owned by employees “increasing significantly.” But at the same time 41 percent of those same companies don’t allow those employees to access e-mail or the company network on those machines, either at the office or from home. As analyst David Johnson writes, that just encourages people to spend their own time figuring out how to bypass these rules:

That leaves a lot of employees to find their own ways to get around corporate prohibition. Companies Forrester spoke with for this document described a gray market emerging internally, where employees share tips and strategies to use their Macs at work and bypass corporate roadblocks.

Forrester says you may as well let Mac users have them out in the open and accessible to the network at work since their study shows that people who want to work on MacBooks, for instance, classify as a “power notebook user.” To them that means those employees are the ones that work longer and are more productive. Another reason for the change of heart: Forrester says Macs “have developed a reputation for reliability and low maintenance.” What IT person in charge of the budget doesn’t want to hear that?

But while the guys managing desktop and laptop deployment may still need to get with the program, the teams managing mobile IT have already seen the light on letting employees have input on their devices. Since the arrival of the iPhone and Android (s goog) smartphones, this same phenomenon has been taking place. A group of mobile IT specialists talked about it at GigaOM Mobilize in San Francisco last month.

Julie Palen, SVP of Tangoe, says that a great percentage of employees are not asking their employers for a corporate phone. They don’t mind paying for a device or the plan as long as they can use a device of their choice and access the company network, she said.

“It’s irrelevant who owns the device or who pays for the plan,” said Palen. “It’s all about the device, as long as the data is secure and controlled … then that’s the big change and the answer becomes yes.”

Because the tools are there to secure those networks, companies are basically silly not to let tech-savvy employees use their own devices. And mobile IT guys finally figured it out this year, the Mobilize panel agreed:

“2011 was the year mobile IT was born,” said Bob Tinker, CEO of MobileIron. “It was the year the IT industry figured out mobile, and it’s the year that mobile figured out IT … Every small, medium and large enterprise around the world is going to be deploying smartphones and tablets at scale over the next 12 to 18 months.”

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect Forrester’s exhortation has over the next year or so. Will IT managers take it to heart, or just continue business as usual? We can guess which option employees would want.