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Best Practices for Managing the Consumerization of IT

It is increasingly the case that employees are using their own technology--hardware, services and even applications--while on the job. This has become known as the "consumerization of IT," since it represents a shift in how technology is discovered and adopted. Historically, employees were introduced to new technology at the office, and only adopted it at home when its value to their personal lives became clear, and prices for the technology went down. But today, it's more likely that employees discover new technologies on their own, and bring them into the workplace as they see fit.

Indeed, according to recent research from Frost & Sullivan, the majority of companies allow employees to use their own technology at work. When we asked, "Are the employees in your organization allowed to use personal and/or consumer services in the enterprise?" here are the answers we got:

This trend looks good for businesses, since employees can save companies money by buying and using their own technology on the job, and by using free services instead of those paid for by the company. But it also leads to security and governance risks, and a lack of control over the technology and its use. So we recommend that a structured approach and a rigorous methodology are key to success in this process.

With that in mind, we've developed a six-prong strategy for dealing with the consumerization of IT in your organization.

1. Define the Mobile Workers and Strong Collaborators in Your Organization: One of the biggest changes in the business world today is the growing number of mobile workers. These mobile employees are decidedly not your father's road warriors. They may not travel routinely for business, but they are working routinely from home, on their commute, evenings and weekends, and so on. The vast majority of newly mobile employees are knowledge workers who are increasingly willing to work outside of "normal" business hours in exchange for more freedom and flexibility in their workaday lives.

2. Identify the Consumer Technology Currently in Use: Once you know who your mobile and collaborative workers are, you need to uncover what applications, services and devices they're using at work, for work. The best way to do this is to ask. Survey all employees on a list of technologies they own and access at work, including mobile phones, tablets, video recorders, conferencing services, social media sites and applications, and low-cost calling services like Skype.

3. Assess Which Tools Have a Business Benefit: If you ask, you'll likely discover that many of your employees routinely use their mobile phones to access corporate email and conduct business via phone calls and text; access social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter for work-related collaboration; and use telephony and video services like Skype to make long-distance calls when on the road. But just because employees use their own technology at the office doesn't mean they are doing so for work. So it's crucial to determine what new technologies are actually beneficial to the organization, and which ones simply allow an employee to take care of personal business on the job.

4. Determine What Technology to Upgrade or Deploy: Once you have a clear understanding of the type and extent of consumer technology being used in the enterprise for business purposes, you must decide which of it, if any, you want to deploy and support on an official basis. For instance, if a large percentage of non-traditional mobile workers are using their personal smart phones to make and receive business calls and emails, you may want to purchase and support those devices within IT, to ensure a single corporate identity for your end users, and to maintain security and control over calls, texts and email.

5. Evaluate Where Benefits and Savings Lie: Deploying new mobile and collaboration technology will initially raise costs, of course, but it may also open up opportunities for savings. For instance, many companies that issue mobile phones to employees don't give those same employees a landline or desk phone, especially if they work from home. They then use an enterprise FMC solution and a soft phone PC client to connect with the corporate PBX or WLAN to extend corporate telephony features and applications and deliver cost-related benefits through the integration of wired and wireless networks.

6. Set Policies and Procedures for the Use of Consumer Services and Devices: Deciding on a consumerization policy will be one of the biggest budget and support challenges for companies in the years to come, and it will require decisions about the business as much as about technology. Employees will access enterprise applications without the express consent--or even knowledge--of IT, either by downloading a free version via an app store or by accessing a Web client via the Internet. Companies can forbid this kind of access, but they can't prevent it. And if IT opts to deploy an application on an employee-owned device, it risks conflicts with other applications, or the operating system itself, which may interfere with the performance of the enterprise application. In these cases, you may need to set policies around how employees use their personal smart phones if they opt to deploy the enterprise apps.

I will be participating in a panel discussion on this topic at 10am on Thursday at Enterprise Connect. Hope to see you there!