"Consumerization of IT" may be an overused phrase, but it is by no means a fad. Workers nationwide are coming to expect that personal devices will connect to corporate networks.
But while the use of personal devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets is liberating workers, it is handcuffing many IT departments. For every salesperson using his or her personal iPad to access corporate email or CRM, there are IT managers behind the scenes scrambling to manage personal devices, protect corporate data and intellectual property, and ensure compliance.
And many of these "consumerization of IT" strategies are haphazard, rattled by security fears and unclear data management policies, according to a survey of 750 front-line IT professionals, managers and executives, conducted by Dimensional Research and commissioned by Dell KACE.
The survey results shut the door on any doubts that "consumer IT" is just a catchphrase. Of the 750 survey respondents, 87 percent say their employees use personal devices for work-related purposes ranging from email and calendaring to texting to CRM and ERP. Eighty percent report that employees use personal smartphones and 69 percent say personal PCs are brought to work by employees.
Those are big numbers, and IT groups are feeling the pressure, according to the Dimensional Research report. With more devices in the workplace, there are more operating systems to manage and connect to corporate networks.
Of all the personal devices used for work, the Apple iPhone leads the way (72 percent), followed by Android-based smartphones (63 percent), Windows laptops or desktops (63 percent), the iPad tablet (60 percent) and the BlackBerry smartphone (52 percent).
Among just PCs, employees are bringing in personal machines running Windows (63 percent), Mac OS X (37 percent) and Linux (14 percent).
All of this is a recipe for IT complexity. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents report that their IT teams have taken on supporting more operating systems because of the devices that have been brought into work by employees.
Interestingly, 60 percent of respondents say they have seen a greater demand for support of Apple's Mac OS X for desktops and laptops as the iPhone and iPad have grown more popular. It seems the use of Apple mobile devices are feeding the entire Apple ecosystem — clearly a major part of Apple's overall strategy.
But despite the benefits to workers, the consumerization of IT is a thorn in the side of most IT departments, according to the survey. Fears and concerns abound. The majority, 82 percent, report they are concerned about the use of personal devices for work purposes, with the biggest concern being potential network security breaches (62 percent), followed by possible loss of customer enterprise data (50 percent), potential theft of intellectual property (48 percent) and difficulty meeting compliance requirements (43 percent).
As for keeping an inventory of personal devices and applications, a majority of respondents feel they are not doing a good enough job. When asked, 64 percent reported they are not confident they know of all non-company owned devices and applications that are connecting to the network.
Having formal policies in place to support personal devices used for work is viewed as important by a large majority of respondents (88 percent) and 69 percent have some kind of formal policy in place around the use of personal devices. Nevertheless, 62 percent report their company lacks the necessary tools to support employee personal devices, regardless of whether policies are in place or not.
As with any disruptive change in a business, the consumerization of IT will call for big adjustments from IT to facilitate the use of personal devices at work. It's a movement that will not be going away anytime soon.
"Consumerization of IT is not simply a passing trend — it is the way business will be conducted on an ongoing basis, especially in the SMB market," says Diane Hagglund, senior research analyst for Dimensional Research and the study's author. "So it is critical that companies put policies and standards into place to support these devices and ensure the security of corporate data and intellectual property."
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org