Earlier this year James McMahon (a fellow Scientific Community member) and I published a white paper asking “Can consumer technology really help businesses?” – it’s available here (behind the Atos “pay-wall” – you’ll need to register to download, but there’s a prize for the most amusing identity used.) Consumerisation is all the rage now – employees wanting to use their own mobiles, their own PCs and now their own tablets. And business too are now also following that previously individual-led path, with the provision of the latest generation of consumer equipment; often from suppliers we haven’t seen in corporate environments hitherto.
As a result of the paper we received an email from one of our security colleagues; he was aghast – how could we endorse such behaviour?! User-owned equipment in the work place?! No!! (Which reminds me of this; amazingly from three years ago – it has been a long road.)
Of course the truth is it’s already here, whether it’s endorsed or not. So the security question is a healthy debate to have right now – we can’t pretend we all have water-tight security in our businesses. It’s a risk management game – a trade-off between security and our ability to do business effectively (… apart from when it really matters, then indeed additional measures are then taken). Managed risk is better than ignored/unmanaged risk, so we need to embrace what we know is already happening out with the use of personally provided devices.
There are two aspects I see as important in this adoption of consumer technology. 1. Many businesses need to continue to strive for ever increased efficiency. They can do so by removing barriers, removing red tape, simplifying processes and reducing complexity. Making the business environment as vanilla as possible and able to use out-of-the-box consumer technology is one way of addressing this. 2. Why do individuals like to use their own equipment? It’s often, quite simply, because it’s better. Pressure to reduce costs in businesses results in a lowest common denominator; A solution that’s only just good enough for the majority. However the minimum to get the job done in general often means not good enough in some cases, and not with the extras that might come in handy from time to time. The tangible and measurable cost savings win out against the intangible benefits of being a more productive, and in fact being a happier employee – often a business’s greatest asset (and most expensive!) The equation is a unbalanced one: A keen employee doesn’t mind paying double the cost for a nice laptop than would have been provided by his employer. He can live with it for the better experience he’ll have in his life. But the company seeking to double its user device budget to provide the same level of satisfaction is going to lead to a difficult conversation between CIO and CFO.
I actually believe businesses can also move some of their previous investment burden to the employee and that in many cases the employee is happy to pick it up. Especially in the IT industry. Hush. If they want to, let them buy their Android devices, their Apple iPads, their Mac Book Pros. They’ll be efficient using them, and we can avoid that investment ourselves.
I recognise it’s not going to be for everyone, or for every business. And there are complexities we cover in the paper around software licensing and other challenges we need to address. However I do believe the answer to the question is yes, consumer technology can help our businesses.