It’s Time to Rethink Support

Disruptive IT Trends5 minutes readJun 17th, 2010

When IDC reports that 95 percent of workers are purchasing, configuring, and supporting their own consumer technologies for business purposes, you know some big changes are in the works for the way enterprises use technology.

I’ve written in my blog about the revolution taking place in the enterprise today: the consumerization of IT. This revolution challenges the status quo of restrictive end-user standards, policies, support methods, and budgeting decisions common in business today.

The approaches traditionally associated with the IT department are not optimal in this new era. Boundaries between work and personal technologies are diminishing, and employees expect the technologies they rely on in their personal lives to be available to them in their business lives, and vice versa.

Existing, decades-old approaches to IT are based on handing out and supporting standardized sets of technologies to our workforce. Those approaches grew out of security and cost concerns, and are designed to reduce risk and support costs.

The consumerization of IT movement is about mobility and choice. It’s about mobilizing and unleashing the innovation of an army of tech-savvy employees. When you introduce mobility and choice, don’t you introduce risk and open the door to higher support costs? So how could this be a good thing?

Well, like anything else, it’s all in how you approach it. Our current work with clients at Unisys highlights that IT needs to rethink ideas about what constitutes acceptable risk, how IT support can and should be managed and delivered to employees, and how IT can contribute to organizational requirements for cost savings.

Corporate IT will not be able to restrict this move, except in special cases. Third-party service providers have been supporting diverse platforms across the aggregate of their clients for many years, and can do so without increasing your support costs. That is in contrast to what an internal IT department can do.

There are, in my view, additional productivity benefits for enterprises that embrace the consumerization of IT movement, but they are the icing on the cake. Case in point: We find that employees who buy their own equipment tend to take better care of it, and pay more attention to it. In addition, the loss ratio is lower on equipment that employees personally own.

Just because a device is not purchased and issued by the corporation doesn’t mean that it is inherently insecure. Today, it’s easy to manage policy on a machine “in the wild.” The tools have evolved, and there are many proven technologies that IT implements to support its security posture in a corporation.

On Windows, Microsoft’s Security Center is now part of the operating system, focused on ensuring users are certain their firewall, antivirus, and other security-related essentials are operational and up to date.

So the infrastructure is already there in virtually every IT organization, and it’s working. What’s missing in the enterprise, largely, is employee choice — the ability for users to choose the consumer technologies they know will make them the most productive, and enable them to support one another (perhaps using wikis or social networks), rather than generating tickets and hours at the help desk.

One look at the Unisys-IDC business study tells you that. Employees are overwhelmingly buying and sufficiently capable on their own to use consumer technologies in the workplace. They’re supporting one other in the enterprise, very often through social networking or other means of collaboration.

And yet employers overwhelmingly say they continue to want to purchase, issue, and support only corporate-approved technologies. Only a small percentage of employers report that they have stipends or digital allowances in place, according to the study.

What I’m about to say will be hard for many IT leaders to swallow, but it must be said in light of the consumerization of IT trend. Rather than a rigid, one-size-fits-all policy for end-user support of consumer technology, it’s time we considered matching the profile of employees — their work style, workplace, technical capabilities, demographic data, and even income — to the kind of equipment and platforms that make the most sense for them and their team.

There are practical ways to do this, and we’re using them with a number of our clients. For example, using Web-based surveys to poll your employees about their technology preferences, then presenting them with a white list of approved technologies and support options. That way, you can not only put a corral around the “Wild West” of technologies, but also make your employees feel empowered that they have choice — increasing productivity and lowering costs at the same time.

Another policy to consider is a managed digital allowance, where you give your employees a set, annual stipend for purchasing their own technologies, within a framework of corporate-approved security tools and mechanisms that need to be on those devices.

Managing risk will always be a crucial part of our jobs in IT. But we need to consider what risks we might bring to our enterprises by sticking with restrictive and outdated IT governance models and not embracing and supporting the consumerization of IT trend within our own workplaces. By empowering our people, we empower the enterprise.