The last time we had a disruptive BYOD event, back when PCs came to market, I was working at IBM. We concluded not only that IT was redundant but that it was time to displace IT with our internal group's own equipment and resources.
Over the last year, the IT events I've attended have increasingly showcased a trend among users to bypass IT departments and go directly to online services like those supplied by Google and Amazon. BMC even created a unique program, called Cloud Boot Camp, which basically serves as a marriage counseling service that helps IT and line executives reconcile so that policies aren't broken and IT isn't made redundant.
The answer to the question posted in the headline may seem like an easy "no" if you are in IT. However, the BYOD sea change and the broad trend to move technology decisions closer to users and into line organizations is making IT services redundant. To avoid getting smaller over the next few years, IT groups will have to adapt.
Widespread BYOD a Sign of User Dissatisfaction
At the core of the BYOD and consumerization trend is dissatisfaction with what IT provides. If the user and line manager thought the services and hardware that IT supplied was adequate, then they obviously wouldn't be motivated to bring their own hardware into the shop.
An auto mechanic bringing his or her own tools into the shop clearly indicates that the shop provides inadequate tools to its employees. Meanwhile, when employees bring in their own furniture, as executives often do, it is a silent vote of no confidence in the services that space planning and facilities provide. Since employees are comfortable providing their own equipment when a corporate service doesn't meet one particular need, it becomes easier for executives to see when other needs aren't being met.
For example, IT is typically bypassed in lieu of cloud services these days largely because getting resources allocated is often a difficult process wrought with paperwork, approvals and other hurdles. To avoid this, users instead go to online services, use their credit card and submit an expense report—all of which bypasses IT until an audit or review catches this behavior and some IT or security executive has a minor coronary.
You may think that simply enabling the device the user brought is addressing the problem—certainly the user-staffed groups put in place to provide Macs with IT support would tend to support this assumption.
Think of this differently, though. By putting in place such a group, you've basically taken IT out of the support loop, except as an observer. If you could do that with Macs, why couldn't you do it with, well, everything? Small companies don't have IT departments, and they seem to do just fine—and off we go down the slippery slope, arguing whether IT is relevant.
If Users Were Customers, They'd Take Their Money Elsewhere
Most of the IT groups I've worked with over the years seem to have trouble grasping that they are essentially staff organizations. In that sense, line groups are customers. If a customer decides to either use a third-party service or buy his or her own over something any vendor supplies, that is a lost customer. The line group's funding will likely follow.
If IT sits back in a BYOD world and does the bare minimum to get employee-sourced hardware to function, that will just hasten the discussion about whether the line organizations need IT at all. Eventually, the line organization will recognize that it is doing much of the visible work itself and decide to insource IT functions.
Granted, in doing so the organization is likely to suddenly discover all of the unsung things the IT department had been doing. By then, though, it will be too late, as the IT staff has been laid off, replaced by a hosting company, service or a line-staffed replacement function.
How to Convince Everyone That IT Matters in a BYOD World
Hope is not lost. Even in a BYOD world, the IT department can be relevant, though it might work a bit differently than before.
- IT can help with the device selection and the location of support resources.
- IT can get volume discounts for employees. This will reduce the sticker price of devices and give the company the special treatment that volume purchasers often enjoy over one-off buyers.
- IT can warn users about security or services issues they may not be aware of, not to mention drafting a successful BYOD policy that protect both the business and, as a result, the employee's job.
- Above all, IT can stay in touch with users, figure out what they need and actively work to both assure users that they are in fact relevant and remind users what IT is doing done on their behalf.
Many outsourcing decisions are based on bad information. Ensuring that decision makers always find you and your organization valuable is a top priority if you want to keep your job, regardless of where you work in a company. In a BYOD world, this is also critical for nothing less than the IT department's survival.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Rob writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.