Business Software

How to Harness the Power of Consumerization

The self-provisioning of technology in the workplace by employees, more commonly known as consumerization, is the most dramatic opportunity disguised as a challenge that businesses should embrace. Along with the infiltration of unsanctioned personal devices, applications, and Web services inside the organization, companies are gaining workers who are increasingly self-motivated to be more empowered, engaged, and resourceful.

What enterprise should say no to a self-starter?

None should, according to industry watchers. Consumerization is here, and it's not going away. Savvy companies will recognize the consumerization trend for what it is: the opportunity to put in place the security and support mechanisms to nurture this new breed of worker to leverage benefits such as innovation, increased productivity, and -- ultimately -- growth and increased revenue.

In 2011, 40 percent of devices used to access business applications were personally owned by the employee, according to IDC's 2011 Consumerization of IT study. That's up 10 percent from 2010. At the same time, the percentage of company-owned devices used by the employee fell by 10 percent, from 69 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2011.

Additionally, twice the number of employees used social media apps, such as Facebook and Twitter, in the workplace in 2011 compared to 2010, according to the research firm.

Undeniably, the line between personal IT and work IT has blurred. More important, whether sanctioned or not, employees are rapidly increasing the use of their personally preferred mobile devices -- such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops -- as companion devices to their PCs. For example, at Needham Bank it's common to see employees opt to use bank-sanctioned Apple iPads at their desk rather than their desktop PC. "They get in, get out, and get what they need to do done," says James Gordon, vice president of IT at the Massachusetts bank.

At a minimum, today's workers expect the same technology and capabilities inside the office as they use outside the office. Certainly, they don't expect less. "The fact that we sanction the use of iPads and smartphones spurs a level of excitement, even on the warehouse floor," says Neil Goodrich, director of business analytics and technology at Holly Hunt, a designer and producer of luxury home furnishings. He notes that such support also instills a level of pride among workers.

The defensive business reflex to the consumerization trend -- based on a perceived loss of control and legitimate concerns about risk and security -- is to protest too much, to push back too hard, or to impose old and rigid standards. Successful organizations will instead adopt an offensive strategy to make consumerization a win-win for all.

Where the benefits can be reaped

Companies that embrace consumerization can expect to see both internal and external benefits.

Internally, the business gains from embracing consumerization are broad, including potential cost savings, more-satisfied employees, productivity gains, a stronger recruitment position, increased innovation, and investment in technologies that they might not otherwise bought into, or at least not as quickly.

The overarching external benefit is improved customer engagement.

Used as part of a multichannel strategy to reach out to customers, business partners, and suppliers, consumerization tools and technology can make it easier for existing customers to do business with you and to create exposure, such as through social media, for new customers to find out about your business's services and products.

Embracing consumerization and reaping its benefits begins with a road map that plans for success and then sharing it with employees. "We recommend establishing a center of excellence where IT partners with the lines of business to identify the greatest benefits of consumerization to the company and how to get there," says Phil Garland, a partner in PwC's CIO Advisory Services group.

Turning users into IT deputies

Although IT organizations admit to feeling besieged by consumerization -- 80 percent of IT executives say consumerization increases IT workload, according to IDC -- the trend is inevitable with no signs of letting up. "The form factors of today aren't the end of it," says Danielle Levitas, a senior analyst at IDC.

The good news for IT is that the democratization of the workplace offers benefits for the IT group. The technology-savvy employee bent on selecting his or her own mobile device and apps can be an asset, one that PwC describes as helping turn "shadow IT" into "deputized IT."

In other words, IT gains an army of user assistants who turn to each other to solve problems with their devices and apps rather than lean on IT. This self-support not only reduces the burden on IT but also offers the IT organization partners in innovation and testing and inside-the-business technology analysts.

That's the approach being taken at furnishings firm Holly Hunt. It's kicked off a series of marketing and training groups with IT for people to trade ideas and to identify gaps in the tools available to employees designed to improve productivity. "These users are the new litmus test for new application development," says business analyst director Goodrich.

Goodrich contends that consumerization makes users less tolerant of poorly made software, so IT needs to tackle that issue head-on. By focusing less on devices and more on apps that target improved business processes, the partnering of IT and users can drive productivity through better tools -- the bull's-eye of consumerization.

The always-on employee

By tapping into an existing base of technology aficionados willing to use their always-on, easy-to-use, 24/7-accessible devices for work -- even if just a quick activity here and there -- businesses will inevitably see a productivity advantage.

Already, employees admit that no place is sacred when it comes to using consumer technologies to conduct work. IDC survey respondents admit to squeezing in work time while on vacation, in bed, during commute time, at family gatherings, while watching TV, and even at a place of worship. "While not quantified, businesses can reap huge benefits from [consumerization] because it's hard to turn the device off when it's also being used for personal use," says IDC's Levitas. Ask any enthusiast just how easy is it to check email, update Facebook, and collaborate with business peers.

The socially savvy business

Many employees have already mastered social media, and as business hones its skills, social media is an avenue to enhance operations and exploit new market opportunities. A 2011 McKinsey report, "How Social Technologies Are Extending the Organization," confirms increased adoption rates of social tools and technology, with 72 percent of respondents using at least one social technology tool and 40 percent reporting the use of social networking and blogs.

Measurable benefits of using social tools internally include increased access to knowledge, a reduction in communication costs, and faster access to internal experts, especially when integrated in the employee's day-to-day work. Similar results are reported among companies that reach outside of the organization to partners, suppliers, and experts.

Organizations using social networking to reach out to customers report more effective marketing, increased customer satisfaction, and reduced marketing costs. Developing communities of interest via the use of social networking is a huge potential shot in the arm to innovation for any organization that plugs in employees as well as business partners, customers, and suppliers.

But a key caveat to realizing the benefits from social media is that it doesn't happen organically. "Beyond the technology there's the functional capability of how to use it effectively to drive results," says Ryan McCune, senior director of innovation and incubation at Avanade, an IT consultancy. Perhaps the easiest and quickest social medium to start with is corporate microblogging, he notes.

Consider Needham Bank. Today, it encourages employees to use LinkedIn, low-hanging fruit to gain competitive advantage and reap immediate business value. It also uses Microsoft SharePoint's My Site feature for internal collaboration. Facebook is the next social networking frontier for the company. "We have to do it 100 percent right and manage the risk appropriately before we jump in," says business analytics director Gordon.

The greatest benefits come from apps

Consumerization's productivity advantage is ultimately about the apps: delivering the right applications and data to the right set of users and managing it accordingly -- which goes back to creation of a center of excellence to identify the applications that deliver the greatest benefit.

Many in IT are concerned about needing to gain expertise in multiple mobile and cloud platforms, but the good news about mobile apps and social cloud is that new apps can be developed quickly and at a lower cost than traditional enterprise apps. "It's easier to experiment because the focus for development is on the front end, tapping into existing enterprise apps such as CRM, ERP, and HR, for example," says PwC's Garland. At the same time, developers can fail fast while taking a smaller bite out of the R&D budget.

The bottom line is that a progressive attitude toward consumerization is good for business. So get progressive.

This story, "How to harness the power of consumerization," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile technology and consumerization at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Read more about consumerization of it in InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT Channel.

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