How to successfully manage the consumerization of IT

PhonesI wrote recently about the apps that feed our mobile addiction. Now, the trouble with an addiction is that it needs constant feeding, and with mobiles, tablets and other devices, it has never been easier to tap and click away to your heart’s content. For consumers this is wonderful, but for IT departments it can be a major headache as employees seek the same freedom and flexibility at work.
Whether on smartphone or tablet, business leaders now demand access to corporate email and documents 24/7. When they get such access, they begin to see the potential that comes with it: increased productivity and flexibility, improved efficiency and perhaps even a reduction in the amount of office space required as people are able to work remotely. When this occurs, senior execs start asking why there isn’t a company-wide mobile strategy in place — which is exactly where the troubles can begin for beleaguered IT teams.

Tablets equal headaches

We have all heard the phrase “consumerization of IT.” But despite its overfamiliarity, it is a genuine phenomenon. If enterprises don’t issue their workforce with smartphones or tablets, employees become increasingly intent on using their own devices. This trend, affectionately known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), is a real headache for IT teams. Recent research from Dell KACE showed that of 750 IT professionals surveyed, almost nine in ten said that their staff were using their own devices for anything ranging from email right through to CRM and ERP.
More devices means more operating systems, which in turn means added complexity for IT departments. Concerns about network security breaches, IP theft and loss of data mean that a strategy for addressing BYOD is imperative.

The best approach

Essentially what is happening is a shift from IT assets inside the firewall to IT ?assets outside the firewall. While this does present challenges, it is by no means an insurmountable problem.
Your enterprises should begin by choosing at least three smartphone platforms to support. It is, of course, impossible to support every platform, but an audit of the most popular devices in an organization will reveal the most appropriate. Then your organization must decide what type of approach it wants to take: Do you still want to provide and retain control of all devices, software and apps? Or is there merit in a hands-off strategy? Perhaps your IT departments should recommend devices and apps but ultimately let employees source their own, with any required controls applied in the cloud?

Business has changed, IT must follow

The way in which so many of us work has changed dramatically over the last decade. There is no longer a requirement for today’s web workforce to be stuck in one location or connected to one enterprise server. Web workers are mobile and flexible — reflective of the way businesses operate in 2012.
So the traditional roles and responsibilities of an IT department are changing, just as the way that businesses operate is changing. An IT team worth its salt needs to be aware of this. The consumerization of IT and BYOD are not passing fads, and the sooner organizations embrace this, the sooner they can reap the many benefits that such an approach brings. People are going to use devices that make their working lives easier whether an IT Director likes it or not, so surely acceptance is the way forward for any right-minded organization?
By relinquishing just a little control, IT departments can unlock their organizations from the constraints that come with the old approach to device management and usher them into a new era of productivity, flexibility and collaboration.
Andy McLoughlin, co-founder and EVP Strategy at Huddle, can be reached on Twitter @Bandrew.
Image courtesy of Flickr user rhodes.