Who Should Pay for Your Employees’ Consumer Technology, and How?

Disruptive IT Trends3 minutes readSep 29th, 2010
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In the mid-1980s, historian Barbara W. Tuchman published “The March of Folly,” a superb examination of some states’ and organizations’ almost perverse insistence on pursuing “policy contrary to [their] self-interest,” with consequences ranging from adverse to disastrous.

We’re seeing evidence that IT management is in danger of pursuing a similar course of action as consumerization of IT spreads through enterprises. This is especially true in the area of funding employee purchases of tools to maximize productivity.

In a poll conducted on Unisys.com this past summer, 74 percent of the 141 iWorker respondents said that they would be willing to pay at least part of the cost for productivity-enhancing technology for work if they could choose it themselves. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of the respondents said that they would be willing to pick up the full cost, while 21 percent would pay up to half the cost, and another 21 percent would fund up to 30 percent of the cost.

However, the nearly 650 global IT decision-makers who responded to the “Consumerization of IT” research Unisys conducted with IDC earlier this year showed no such enthusiasm for employee-funded IT initiatives. Seventy percent of these employer representatives indicated that they intended to continue taking on that responsibility through traditional models for purchasing employees’ devices and covering business-related charges rather than enact discount/stipend programs for employees to purchase their own technologies.

This dichotomy in attitudes exposes an issue with potentially adverse consequence for business. IT organizations are trying to use a traditional, top-down method to control a bottom-up revolution in the workplace. Unfortunately for them, that’s like trying to build a mud wall to hold back a tsunami. Their rationale is sure to be swept away by the tide of worker enthusiasm for flexible access to productivity tools — even where they need to pay for it all themselves.

I think that IT management’s motivation isn’t so much recalcitrance as trepidation at the prospect of having to oversee too much. Allowing employees to purchase their own technologies would encourage diversity in business-related devices that companies aren’t prepared to manage.

In many cases, that fear is far from irrational. Often, enterprises don’t have the internal financial and management resources to support anything but a relatively narrowly defined range of technologies. Rather than remain hobbled by anxiety, however, they should take action and consider the economic benefit they could derive from engaging an expert services provider to handle IT management for them.

Outsourcing-services providers have already established effective operational models and gained years of experience in managing a wide and continually expanding range of technologies. It’s much easier, and more cost-efficient, for companies to implement and manage digital allowances and other types of tech-purchase subsidies for their employees if they have a partner whose IT management capabilities they can rely on.

In the face of trepidation, it’s always best to take action rather than remain inert. Rather than cling to old ways, IT management would better serve employees — and the organization — by making a clear-eyed evaluation of its capabilities, or lack of them, to help iWorkers select and fund the widest possible range of productivity technologies. If they don’t, they risk missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on new ways of doing business, connect more effectively with customers, and attract future workers.