Tablets

No IT Budget? Workers Bring Their Own Tech

If your business faces spiralling IT costs, how about this for a plan: Get employees to purchase their own equipment. No, this isn't a federal government initiative, but it is becoming increasingly popular around the country.

It's driven by the desires of workers to use their own and often cutting-edge consumer hardware, such as smartphones and tablet computers. Corporate IT tends not to favor these devices, perhaps because IT departments can be very conservative, although the fact such hardware is very expensive can't help.

For example, Apple iPads are seeing take-up in corporate environments despite the fact that Apple has never targeted that market sector through advertising, and ostensibly has no interest in it right now.

A kind of digital divide is opening up between IT departments that prefer to rely on desktop and laptop computers, which have proved their worth for 20-30 years, and workers who want the flexibility offered by smartphones and tablets (if not the businesses cred of being seen as the first to embrace new technologies).

The choice for a business is to either embrace the phenomena, or fight against it. Ford chose to embrace it with a program called Email on Personally Owned Devices, or ePOD, whereby it supports users who grab their messages on iPhones, iPads, and BlackBerry devices they've bought themselves.

However, some manufacturers are in on the act too. VMware's Mobile Virtualization Platform, which allows virtualization on cell phones, blatantly markets itself by mentioning that IT departments can install their own version of Android on phones workers have purchased, alongside the built-in operating system.

Experts suggest corporate IT might have to loosen the reins a little when it comes to IT purchases. In the future, workers might be given an allowance by their employer to purchase their own hardware, in return for which the employer is allowed to either virtualize a "work" OS, or is able to install lock-down software that will protect any company data that ends-up on the phone.

All of this follows the general trend set by cloud computing, of course, which reduces in importance IT equipment and promotes in importance the data itself. Nowadays it's less of an issue how a worker accesses data in the cloud, and more an imperative that he or she is able to do so whenever, wherever and however they want. Desktops and laptops are just as good as any other device for accessing the cloud, but compared to smartphones and tablets they're decidedly last century.

This is a shift in perception for IT departments which, over the years, have come to see themselves more as gatekeepers and less as enablers, which was undoubtedly their role back in the 1970s and 80s, when they first came into existence.

The bottom line is how to protect corporate data while giving workers the freedom they crave. There aren't many answers right now. But, as Thunderclap Newman sang all those years ago, "There's something in the air." We have got to get it together, and now.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.

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