Jan 2, 2011

What is the consumerization of IT?

The term the “Consumerization of IT” is popping up all over the place. What do we actually mean by it? It refers to the increasing influence that our technology experiences as consumers—both hardware and applications—have on the technology that we expect to use at work. And it’s something I’d be willing to bet most of you are already experiencing to some degree in your organization. How many of you have employees accessing Facebook on a regular basis? Or maybe you have actually put in measures to block social networking sites? How often do your staff use their personal computers to do their work—perhaps as they are getting caught up in the evening or over the weekend? How many are using their personal thumb drives to take work home with them?

The reality is that many of us have powerful computer systems at home, and social computing tools like MySpace, Twitter, blogs, etc. are a part of our everyday lives. As technology plays an increasingly important role in our personal lives and we become accustomed to the power, convenience, flexibility, and connectedness of consumer technology experiences, we want those same capabilities to help us at work. However, in most cases we aren’t being given the tools. Consider the comment there on the screen by Ars Technica. It wasn’t that long ago that we learned about and experienced cutting-edge technology in the workplace. How quickly that has changed—as consumers, we now have access to and take advantage of the latest technology to hit the shelves or even be streamed as a service through our high-speed broadband connections. The reality of corporate IT for the most part means a long wait before budgets and deployment cycles align to bring us the “latest” offerings for the enterprise, a few years late.

Let’s add into this mix the influence of the “millennial” generation. These relative newcomers to the workforce are a technology-savvy generation that has never known a time without the Internet and constant connectivity, whether by mobile phone or instant messaging. They are avid users of social networking and other social computing tools, regularly expressing themselves with blogs and through online forums. They love their devices and stay at the forefront of what technology can do. And this generation expects to be able to use these same tools at work. In fact, Symantec conducted a survey and found marked differences in the attitudes and behaviors of millennials compared with other workers towards using Web 2.0 applications and personal devices. Notably, a full 69 percent said that they would “use whatever application/device/technology they want, regardless of source or corporate IT policies.” That’s compared with only 31 percent of employees of other generations. They were also much more frequent users of social networking and Web-based e-mail at work, and three times as many of the millennials reported that they had downloaded software at work for their personal use. They also regularly store their work data on their personal devices—whether PCs, USB drives, or smartphones.

In discussing the increasing consumerization of IT trend, Forrester likewise picks up on the strong influence of the millennials, but notes that they aren’t alone. They observe that Gen Xers are “asking their IT departments to deliver at work the same consumer applications that they enjoy at home.” But millennials are “even bolder” and “completely eschew conventional productivity tools like email in favor of text messaging and Web 2.0 tools.” Ultimately, Forrester believes that “individual people, not IT organizations, are fueling the next wave of IT adoption.”

So what does this mean for businesses? It means that the influence of consumer technologies on your organization and your workforce is largely unavoidable—and it has some real implications on a number of fronts, including security and employee satisfaction. Ultimately, as Gartner puts it, this will be “the single most influential trend affecting the technology sector in the coming decade, but the effects are more subtle and broad-reaching than most observers originally imagined, and we have reached a tipping point.”
If this trend is something that no organization can avoid, the next question is, what can you do to capitalize on it and make it work for your business? This is the topic that we want to focus on today—how you can take advantage of consumerization to realize tangible benefits for your business without compromising enterprise security. Let’s get started.

So, how can consumer technology help your remote workers work more productively? Consider first the nature of remote work. We’re talking here about workers who spend some or all of their time away from the office—whether they are working from home or another office, constantly on the road visiting customers or prospects, taking advantage of a few hours stuck in a departure lounge at the airport, or even prepping for a meeting at a local café. The reality is that the “typical” workplace is no longer just the office but also increasingly people’s homes and public venues. Being away from the office and not connected to the corporate network can make it challenging to access the data and line-of-business applications that people need to get their work done. Plus, because of the confluence of more powerful consumer devices and a blurring of work vs. personal time, remote workers increasingly want to use their own devices to do their work, which might not even have the same standard productivity applications that they use every day and can mean they’ll spend more time transferring files around—all of which adds up to lost productivity.

On the flip side, most employees actually believe that working at home has the potential to make them more productive. In fact, according to a Yankee Group survey, workers say that “working from home is the single most important improvement their organization can make to improve their productivity.” At the same time, though, Yankee Group found that 54 percent of employees believe they would be more productive at work if they had access to the technology they use in their personal life.

The question is how to bring the two together—how to support workers’ preferred work styles without a loss in productivity? We believe the answer is through desktop, application, or user state virtualization as appropriate. There are a couple of options here:

 For non-mobile remote workers—for example, those working from home or offsite contract workers—desktop virtualization enables you to separate and centralize user settings, data, applications, and even the operating system from the device they are using and then enable access through an unmanaged computer with network connectivity

 For mobile workers, with user state virtualization you can store user settings and data in a centralized location and then synchronize that information with local copies of files for offline access. Plus, you can use application virtualization to “stream” applications to users rather than installing them locally. This enables you to support a more flexible work style while making it easy to replace PCs in the event that they are lost or stolen

The bottom line is that there are options here to give your workers the flexibility they need to work where, when, and with the tools they want to use—which will not only help them get more done, but make your business more agile too.

Blogs are also great for sharing information, either internally or even extended out to customers or partners; with blogs they can easily publish information online in a conversational way and invite comments or feedback

And finally, wikis can be an invaluable tool for recording the best practices and shared knowledge from across your organization, as everyone can contribute. Plus, they’re easily updated, and since there is a single, central copy, you don’t have to worry about confusion over multiple versions.

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