Consumerisation of IT: friend or foe of employee productivity?

As we enter 2012, many of IT's most respected visionaries and futurists are predicting that the world as we know it today is about to come to an end.

Future IT innovations will occur in the home and the world of the retail consumer, not in the corporate workplace.

The days of knowledge workers sitting in their cubicles, logging onto specialised applications on their company-owned PCs are over.

Future employees will spend progressively more time on their personal PCs, tablets and smartphones; social networking will enable cross-functional, cross-business unit, cross time zone and cross cultural employee interactions that we can barely conceive of today; and employees will never have to establish a VPN connection to access their business applications ever again.

Put more simply: the iPad and Facebook have won the battle for the future. The consumerisation of IT has arrived.

The Field-of-Dreams approach to improving employee productivity
At first glance it's reasonable to predict that wholesale adoption of mobility devices and social networking tools will produce significant gains in workforce productivity.

IT evangelists espousing this view of the future assume that employees will establish in-depth expertise in the use of these technologies through their personal experiences outside of work and bring this knowledge into the workplace.

If this proves to be true, IT will be challenged to transform the way it delivers business functionality.

IT will need to create new distribution channels for functionality that has historically been delivered through monolithic applications.

In short, the challenge will be to parse monolithic applications into a collection of apptoids that can be offered to employees via the company app store.

Unfortunately, there are two major, perhaps insurmountable, obstacles to this transformational scenario.

First, the presumption that employees develop in-depth expertise in the use of consumer technology is flawed.

Individuals resist formal training in consumer technologyand prefer to learn-by-doing on an as-needed basis.

Consequently, the technology skills they develop are fragmented, anecdotal and wildly inconsistent from one individual to another.

Let's face it – most people can't even program their DVD Recorders.

Secondly, the IT department has very limited insight into how employees actually use personal productivity tools to perform their jobs.

IT departments routinely serve up a mixture of productivity tools such as email, videoconferencing, instant messaging, online conferencing, blogging sites, chat rooms and document sharing repositories with no clear idea of how such tools should be used to support specific business processes.

This Field-of-Dreams approach (build it first and they will use it) to fostering improvements in personal employee productivity has not been very successful in the past, and will likely be an impediment to fully leveraging the potential productivity benefits of mobility and collaboration technologies in the future.

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