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What does the consumerisation of IT mean for today’s businesses?

What role has the consumerisation of IT played in the shifting role of enterprise IT and the rise of shadow IT?

Shadow IT, or technology informally introduced into an organisational environment, is clearly here to stay. According to recent research undertaken by BT, shadow IT solutions now account for 20 per cent of corporate IT spend in Australia and 25 per cent globally.

IT budgets and technology deployments are failing to keep pace with the capabilities of consumer-focused innovations such as smartphones, tablets and online file-sharing services. The outcome is users are effectively taking many of the technology decisions away from IT departments, compromising the ability of businesses to manage their IT risks.

So how have consumer-led expectations complicated technology’s role in the enterprise and subsequently led to the growth of shadow IT?

Consumers first, employees second

Employees are consumers, and consumers today are extremely conscious of the ‘lifestyle’ aspect of the technologies they use.

From sleek form factors to advertisements positioning products as gateways to music, fashion and other desirable consumables, vendors are successfully positioning their products as an indispensable part of the modern, affluent lifestyle.

Failing to match the consumer experience with stylish workplace equipment may prompt some employees to favour the sleek home notebook over the clunky work version.

In worst-case scenarios, business leaders may opt to buy workplace computers for themselves and their teams without asking IT. Poor procurement may have flow-on effects as well. Young, talented people entering the workforce may view outdated computers and clunky, ageing mobile phones as warning signs of a traditional, inflexible workplace.

On the other hand, a modern workplace that offers newer technologies and form factors, and combines them with policies that enable users to access corporate data on preferred devices, can help attract and retain talented people.

It's all about the experience

The second aspect is user experience. Providing a high-quality user experience is mandatory for technology teams seeking to control the emergence of shadow technology. This means accounting for users’ feelings, motivations and values as much as efficiency, effectiveness and basic satisfaction when procuring technologies and developing applications.

Businesses should apply the same user experience principles to the development of in-house corporate applications as to the development of customer-facing applications and websites.

Failing to take this approach may prompt employees to secretly use better-designed commercial application products without informing IT. It may also compromise the productivity and cost savings anticipated from developing an in-house application as users struggle to come to grips with its clunky, unintuitive experience.

Always-on connectivity

Connectivity is another crucial issue for businesses. Employees that endure patchy or slow corporate wireless access may be tempted to use other methods, such as smartphones for wireless hotspots or unsecured wireless networks at local cafes or hotels, which do not meet corporate guidelines for information security.

Businesses have to implement fast, highly available and organisation-wide Wi-Fi to deliver the ubiquitous connectivity that employees view as a basic requirement of modern business. For organisations with limited resources, some providers offer Wi-Fi as a service that can deliver on-demand access to wireless connectivity in multiple locations.

Leveraging collaboration tools

Another area where organisations are vulnerable to shadow IT is in the availability of collaboration and file-sharing tools and technologies.

Employees in modern workplaces expect to be able to collaborate easily and effectively to make fast and more informed business decisions. If employers do not provide the right tools and technologies to enable employees to do this, workers are likely to seek out third-party collaboration and file-sharing tools to perform these activities.

However, this may see employers lose control over how sensitive information is shared, and potentially expose this data to theft or leakage.

According to research prepared by Telstra, nine out of 10 IT leaders across Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and the US struggle to implement the communications and collaboration IT, ranging from desktop virtualisation to video conferencing, that employees want in the workplace.

So what is the answer for businesses seeking to minimise shadow IT?

Put simply, listen closely to users and let their needs drive relevant IT decision-making. If business teams want more say in IT procurement, make sure that any decision they make is subject to IT policies governing fit-for-purpose, security and governance.

Above all, the IT team should change its role from technology gatekeeper to enabler, so business teams can feel comfortable seeking advice about new technologies from their resident, in-house experts.

To find out more about what the consumerisation of IT means for today’s businesses visit Lenovo’s ThinkFWD Think Space.

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