How consumerisation gives business an edge

Forward-thinking firms like Kraft didn't wait for employees to bring in consumer tech, but led the effort themselves

Kraft Foods, a forward-thinking giant when it comes to consumer taste, was anything but when it came to IT. Simply put, the company was mired in the old-school culture of rigid centralized information technology. Not anymore.

Kraft was one of the first major enterprises to recognize the value that consumer devices could produce for business -- and deploying the iPhone back in 2008, well before smartphones had become must-carry devices.

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By early 2009, almost half of the company's mobile users had an iPhone 3G, and the company was then ordering hundreds more every month. "We want to instill innovation in our culture," says Dave Diedrich, Kraft's vice president of information systems. "Seeing the innovation in iPhone opens our employees' minds to what's possible in their jobs."

It did just that. Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, who has written extensively about the consumerization of IT, says the success of the iPhone's internal deployment helped Kraft understand that it could be a powerful tool to reach consumers in new ways. As a result, Kraft developed its own iPhone app, which gives consumers access to thousands of recipes, a library of instructional cooking videos, full-meal shopping lists, and a store locator.

Kraft's story illustrates two of the four major benefits that the consumerization of IT can produce:

Consumerization "is deeper and much farther-reaching than simply allowing employees to bring their own personally purchased PCs and devices to work (also known as bring your own devices, or BYOD)," says IDC analyst Frank Gens. "It touches upon enterprise use of applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media with consumer roots, and is dramatically extending a wide range of employee-facing (internal) and customer- and partner-facing (external) business processes," he says.

Consumerization is spreading rapidly "Consumerization is one of the first things we talk about when I meet with CIOs. It's top of mind," says Forrester's Schadler. That certainly wouldn't have been true even a few years ago.

But the issue has been forced as consumer devices have moved into the enterprise with surprising speed.

Schadler spotted the trend early on, and recalls that when he first wrote about the coming use of the iPhone in business, he was pilloried. "I was slammed by the BlackBerry fan boys," he says.

How things have changed! Last year, Forrester surveyed more than 5,000 information workers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Among the findings:

  • 25 percent of those workers are using a smartphone for work, and roughly 10 percent of them are choosing and paying for it themselves
  • Millions of workers use laptops at work, but only 5 percent of them provision it themselves; however, 21 percent said they would prefer to a single laptop for both work and personal use.
  • 5 percent of those surveyed are using a tablet such as the iPad at work

The data for the Forrester report was gathered a year ago, which means it's likely that the use of consumer devices, particularly tablets, has increased in the workplace. Indeed, a survey of information workers by IDC found that the use of employee-owned devices is soaring. In 2010, roughly 30 percent of those surveyed used their own PC or smartphone at work; by 2011, that number had increased to about 40 percent.

While laptops are far and away the device employees rely on the most -- 49 percent -- tablets are gaining ground. In just two years, they've become the most critical tool for 9 percent of those surveyed, compared to the 6 percent who said their smartphone is most important, according to the IDC survey, which was sponsored by Unisys.

Employees are good at do-it-yourself tech The good news is that employees are finding innovative ways to use those tools to make themselves and their employers more competitive. And they're doing it with or without the blessing of IT. That's only possible because the new breed of consumer technology is so simple that employees don't need much, or even any, help. Forrester found that 37 percent of the employees they surveyed are using do-it-yourself technologies without IT's permission. (Again, those numbers may well be higher now.)

As Schadler wrote in the Harvard Business Review: "LinkedIn, Google Docs, Smartsheet.com, Facebook, iPads, YouTube, Dropbox, Flipboard -- the list is long and growing. Many of these scenarios are do-it-yourself projects. For example, want to ask me business questions on Facebook? Piece of cake; I'll just friend you. Personal iPhones for email, apps, and Internet access outside my clients' door? Check. Google Sites and Docs to exchange documents with partners? Sure, I can spin up a free site or IT can spend the $50 per user per year and make it secure. YouTube to post fix-it-yourself videos for tough service problems? My kid's good with a Flip camera. She can film me doing the fix myself." (Those are all real examples, he adds.)

Letting employees do it themselves not only benefits the various lines of business, it also benefits IT, says PwC's Garland. "In effect, extending IT decision making to users expands IT's reach and capabilities without requiring more IT staff -- a real benefit given how much IT has needed to cut during the recent recession."

A PwC white paper published late last year on consumerization said, "CIOs of companies that have allowed Macintosh computers, for example, into their workplaces tell PwC that they typically find those users support themselves and each other. The same is true of iOS and Android mobile users, users of software as a service [SaaS] and other cloud services, and social networking users."

Where business IT has gained the advantage Schadler, whose research for Forrester is the basis of a book (co-authored with Josh Bernoff) called "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business," interviewed numerous IT executives asking what benefit they obtained by embracing consumerization. Here is some of what they learned:

The CIO of a 20,000-person European engineering company (Forrester has withheld the company's name) was concerned about employees wasting time and potentially creating liability by accessing porn or other inappropriate sites, so he installed Websense to block traffic on the corporate network. That worked, but when the filter made Skype inaccessible, his phone rang off the hook. Skype, it turned out, was an important tool for engineers in Vietnam and Pakistan to talk to customers, partners, and their global project teams, where landline and even cellphone service was limited or unavailable. He turned it back on.

At Lloyd's of London, clients wanted to reach their salespeople via Facebook. But the company's conservative IT department had blocked the social networking service. The salespeople simply pulled out their iPhones (also not permitted) and accessed Facebook anyway. CIO Peter Hambling saw the disconnect between employee-favored technology and the IT department, and convinced top management to permit the use of Facebook, the iPhone, and more. Just as Kraft found when it opened the doors to consumerization, Lloyd's gained benefits it had never considered, such as an underwriting application developed for the iPad.

Earlier, Schadler interviewed IT execs at a major California pharmaceutical company (whose identity Forrester promised to keep secret) who found that deploying iPhones instead of BlackBerrys saved the firm $360 per device each year. And at software giant Oracle, early iPhone deployment was a benefit because "the development platform and intuitive user interface means that Oracle IT can build collaboration and business applications that employees can take with them anywhere," Schadler says.

The use of Twitter by many companies to stay in touch with customers and provide personalized service seems like old news, but it's only been three years since Best Buy launched Twelpforce, one of the largest and most successful uses of social media as a customer service tool. And it's worth noting that large-scale Twitter deployments by Comcast and JetBlue originated with customer service agents using Twitter on their own to help their customers.

Taking the consumerization bull by the horns"Quite simply, the consumerization of IT is a disruptive trend, and the best way to meet a disruptive trend is head-on, anticipating the changes it will bring and exploiting those changes for competitive advantage," says Colin Lacey, who writes a blog on disruptive technologies for Unisys.

To harness the full power of this new wave of productivity, says Lacey, organizations need to modernize their IT environments to:

  • Manage and support these popular consumer technologies
  • Secure critical data and assets against hackers, viruses, identity thieves, and other widespread consumer IT threats
  • Offer the interactive app experiences that consumers are looking for when transacting with their suppliers
  • Handle the expected four-fold increase in transaction load that these new interactive experiences will impose on the IT infrastructure
  • Attract and retain the new generation of workers enteringthe workforce

John Almasy, who also blogs for Unisys, says that he expects enterprises to build and maintain their own app stores, which will be used to securely provision, deploy, and audit corporate approved mobile applications.

Consumerization is hardly a magic bullet, and it can create its own problems. Security is probably the most obvious of these, and has been written about and discussed endlessly. But there are many other issues to consider. Managing workflow and making connections between social media apps and corporate data, such as a customer's history, is challenging, even beyond the potential security pitfalls. Legal issues related to the use of personal technology at work -- privacy is one example -- are still being defined.

But those issues are all merely details of execution. Ultimately, as PwC's Garland puts it, the challenge for both IT management and employees who demand to use consumer technologies on the job "is to forge an adult relationship."

This story, "How consumerization gives business an edge," 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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More about: BlackBerry, Comcast, Dropbox, Facebook, Flipboard, Google, IDC, Lloyd's of London, Oracle, PwC, Skype, Smart, Unisys, Websense
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