The growing Consumerisation of IT has been mentioned in various guises across recent Smartalk items, but what do we mean by the term, and is it a force for good in business? Steve Reynolds explains.
The Consumerisation of IT began, albeit in more vague terms, when employees first began to use their own personal equipment for purposes of their paid employment. For most this meant being able to access email and carry out basic working tasks using their home personal computer. But today’s range of mobile, laptop, desktop and tablet devices mean this has grown considerably more complicated.
The wave of demand
The Consumerisation of mobile IT centres on people using personal devices for day-to-day work on behalf of the organisation that employs them.
This behaviour is being driven by the number of consumers purchasing smartphones. According to WorldPanel comtec 70 per cent of phones sold in the UK during the second quarter of 2011 were smartphones, meaning just over 40% of the population now owns one (Financial Times 24/10/2011). Add to this the 5.3 billion globally connected devices (GSMA), and that 28% of UK consumers have indicated an intention to buy a tablet device in 2012, and you begin to understand the nightmares of IT Managers.
What makes this especially challenging is when employees have better equipment than that provided to them by their employers. As a result there is often pressure on IT departments from staff asking why they can’t use their superior technology for work.
A recent New York Times item explained how the IT department of Kraft Foods hands out a stipend for employees to buy whatever laptop they want from Best Buy, Amazon.com or the local Apple store. The item also cites a survey published by Forrester Research, which found that 48 per cent of information workers buy smartphones intending to use them for work, without considering what would be support by their employer.
Integrating consumer devices into business is far from a simple process. Challenges include employees selecting higher end devices that are not supported: purchase decisions which frequently see form weighted over function. At TBS we are observing cases where BlackBerry devices have been provided to our customers’ staff for email use, but staff then buy iPhones which they prefer to use for email and the richer multimedia experiences they claim it offers.
Business acceptance also remains a key issue. In the enterprise space a service engineer with a smartphone but no other device is already well equipped to conduct field service tasks, therefore he wants to use his device to make life easier.
How it can be accommodated
So how can businesses deal with this consumerisation? After accepting the concept by making work accessible via home PCs, the heart of the matter now revolves around smartphones and tablets.
We need to be creative and calculated in the ways smartphone access is allowed. The latest version of Windows Phone 7 (WP7) has full integration with Sharepoint, enabling businesses to give remote access via Windows Phones, simply and securely. As more businesses move towards Cloud based technology, more remotely accessible corporate information will develop and gather users, allowing consumer devices to access data in a secure and seamless way.
The risk of infection
As with all things in IT, careful consideration must be given to security and device management. The use of consumer app stores can be a challenge for any IT department as rough applications could cause security issues. Applications found in the Blackberry, Apple and Window Phone app stores are subjected to stringent checks, to prevent the release of rogue applications. But this is not necessarily the same with Android, leading to a greater risk of insecure applications and potentially malware being accidentally placed on a device.
Malware and privacy can be a huge problem with Android applications, due to the lack of control and monitoring at the app store level. Android malware threats have also been forecast to increase by a factor of 60 over the next six months, which could see the number of Android mobile malware samples increasing to 12,000 by March 2012.
This isn’t to entirely discount the platform, but risks should be seriously evaluated.
Making it work
In the current state of the economy it makes perfect sense to use every piece of technology available at a neutral cost to business. Why not let employees use their own equipment, if your business can benefit and if it makes their lives easier too?
It’s vital to have a policy in place which clearly sets out the devices that are supported, and those which may pose problems. Being clear from the outset gives IT departments the best springboard for establishing and maintaining systems for the benefit of everyone involved.