Consumer IT and the Mobile Workforce – Time for a New Approach

Consumer IT is merging with corporate IT to create new architectures and operating models

Maybe it’s time to take a different approach to the challenge of managing the mobile user. Ever since the invention of computers, corporate IT controlled the use and set the pace of adoption for new technology. In the last few years that has come to an end. Consumer IT is more powerful than corporate IT and end users are now in control.

Consumer-powered IT from iPhones and Androids to social media and SaaS applications such as Facebook, YouTube and Google Apps are evolving faster than ever before and corporate IT groups have no hope of reversing this trend or preventing employees from using this technology. It’s time to remember that old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

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Big Changes are Happening Faster than We Thought

Over the last several weeks I’ve been moderating discussion groups of IT executives around the country who are talking about the surge in the use of consumer IT at their companies. This summer Unisys commissioned IDC to do an in-depth study of this trend and the research clearly shows what is happening. It seems the IT profession is on the verge of a change not seen since the introduction of the PC, and the pace of change is faster than people expected.

One theme that emerges over and over in the discussion groups is how attempts to block or rigidly control use of consumer IT devices and applications is easily thwarted by users. IT folks are rightly concerned about data security, but heavy handed attempts to lock down mobile devices or prevent company data from finding its way into social media networks like Facebook or SaaS applications like Google Apps are recipes for frustration and failure.

IT groups are struggling to find better ways to manage personal mobile devices while at the same time not impacting user productivity or increasing help desk calls. But these two goals are at odds with each other. And as one executive put it, “We created our data security policies for a different age and now they come back to haunt us.” As he pointed out, in a contest between security and productivity, which one do you think will win?

Data Security is Still Important but We’re doing it Differently

Many IT groups are taking a new approach. They recognize that all data is not created equal and most data simply doesn’t need the level of security we once considered mandatory. They are categorizing their data and identifying that small percentage of data that really needs heavy security. Even for seemingly sensitive data like medical records and financial portfolio data, companies are starting to use codes to replace the names and addresses of people associated with the data and then letting the rest of it go wherever it needs to go without worrying about security.

Another issue involves combining personal and business information on people’s mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. But companies are finding ways to compartmentalize information and emails on a single mobile device and finding ways to erase only the business emails and other sensitive business data while leaving peoples’ personal data alone.

Social Media and Consumer IT are Now Part of Corporate IT

Regarding social media, one executive said, “Facebook is like a modern-day front porch; when people are on it you know they are available to visit with.” And that means they are open to relevant messages and real time communication. This executive works for a company that sells travel and vacation packages and he went on to say that they are interfacing their website and order entry system to Facebook and using Facebook messages to drive traffic to their site. “We are pleasantly shocked by the amount of business going through that interface to us from Facebook,” he said.

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