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Power to the People: Bridging the gap between employees' technology and corporate objectives

by Paul D'Arcy on June 7, 2011


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Power to the People: Bridging the gap between employees' technology and corporate objectives

In the new economy, employees are often perplexed by the disconnect between employee technology and corporate objectives. Executives talk about employee empowerment, the need for innovation, the importance of social media and new business models. But they provide employees with locked-down desktop computers, limit the use of employee-owned technology, and often ban the use of social media applications outright. How should employees respond?

Increasingly, employees are skirting IT restrictions and security rules in order to use their gadgets to help them do their job better. In response, forward-thinking CIOs are encouraging workers to use their own smartphones and tablets alongside corporate computing platforms. They are finding new ways to secure and manage employee-owned devices on the corporate network, an idea that was once unthinkable.

The trend is part of the rapid consumerization of corporate IT. It’s a way for companies to make their employees happy, enhance recruitment and take advantage of their workers’ professional networks.

As with all shifts of this magnitude, the transition has to be mindful. But for knowledge workers whose jobs involve collaboration, the right technology can make a big difference. While the best strategy typically starts with the right company-issued notebook and smartphone, enablement of employee-owned companion devices can improve productivity, making business run better.

According to Morgan Stanley, the mobile Internet has the fastest adoption curve in technology history. There’s no stopping it. One third of employees use mobile devices to access sites like Facebook at work daily. Information workers report using an average of four consumer devices to access an array of third-party applications in the course of any given day. Companies who prohibit these devices and applications manage only to inspire their employees to work around the rules.

So yes, employees have begun to dictate their IT environments. But companies who acquiesce should do so because it’s smart business. McKinsey estimates that two-thirds of the economy is now influenced by personal recommendations. That means that the personal and professional networks of knowledge workers are key to their success at their jobs – and the success of the companies who employ them.

The most desirable hires expect to use the devices they love at work – allowing them that freedom is crucial for recruitment. This year, the first students to grow up with the Internet will graduate from college, and the best and brightest will no longer tolerate locked-down legacy operating systems and restrictions on social media use. Add to the modern mindset the practical needs of a mobile workforce that will have more than 40% of its members telecommuting at least part-time by 2016, and the very idea of segregating work and home devices is a finite solution at best.

Instead, the liberalization of enterprise client technology is the inevitable outcome of these forces. The rise of social media as a business application. The blurring of work and home. The emergence of new mobile devices. Changing employee expectations of IT. They all add up to an imperative to give the people what they want.

The result is the company gets what it needs. Not just a satisfied and productive workforce, but the very security that the impulse to lock down tech was about in the first place. How do you secure all those renegade devices? By accepting them and building systems around them.

Organizations should start by encouraging the business use of employee-owned smartphones and evolve their regulations from there. Move on to piloting tablet devices for field workers, and then allow other populations to bring personally-owned tablets to work. Gartner expects tablet use to explode by a factor of 1,100% in the next three years.

Eventually we’ll be in a post-consumerization era – a period in which companies no longer provide desktop hardware but keep data in a safer-than-now cloud accessed by employees anywhere from a variety of devices. Virtualization will get us the cost savings that consumerization requires.

But for now, it’s about ending the tug of war. There’s no value in engaging in one here, because the winner is a foregone conclusion. When employees are allowed the use of the devices they love, their victory is shared equally by the companies who made it possible.

Paul D’Arcy is executive director of large enterprise marketing for Dell.

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