Enterprises hoping to maintain tight control over future adoption of mobile technologies should open their minds and embrace the notion that consumer devices will continue to filter their way into the workplace, whether they like it or not, according to some wireless market experts.
Presenters at the Mobile Internet World conference in Boston said Thursday said that the "ship has sailed" when it comes to the continued encroachment of mobile systems designed for consumers in the workplace.
As workers get their hands on new mobile tools that offer them greater ability to integrate their jobs and personal lives, said the industry watchers, they will inevitably employ the systems they find most useful in both settings -- regardless of any corporate efforts to slow or block adoption -- said Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst who oversees the firm's infrastructure research and consulting business.
Just as enterprise efforts to stop users from bringing consumer messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications into the office have failed, and many firms have capitulated and allowed people to utilize the tools under certain guidelines, companies will have to allow mass-market mobile technologies to come in the door and try to dictate their use with strong policies, Kerravala said.
"A lot of CIOs say it is what it is, and that they will mandate some corporate tools. Others said they won't let people use anything if they don't have control," Kerravala said. "But, because of the influx of consumer technologies and how fast they change, unless IT learns to operate differently, the problem will only get worse and force IT to operate differently."
With companies spending more than 80 percent of their IT budgets on maintenance, with scant funds left over to sink into innovation, workers will use the new consumer technologies they acquire to lend greater mobility to their lives and carry them into work, he said.
According to Yankee's latest research, at least 45 percent of all enterprise workers operate outside of the traditional office setting at least part of the time.
If consumer-driven mobile systems offer workers better performance and more robust applications than the devices endorsed by their employers, there's little doubt that people will utilize their own tools in some capacity, Kerravala and other speakers said.
Even Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices, which remain the most popular enterprise-issued handhelds in North America, initially came into the workplace through their adoption by workers in their personal lives, the experts pointed out.
"Companies want to have control, but BlackBerry devices came in from the outside and IT eventually found a way to manage them," said Lalit Canaran, director of professional services at Sybase, which operates iAnywhere, a mobile and embedded database technology business.
"The technical specifications of the BlackBerry platform made it more palatable, but the real impetus behind adoption was user demand," Canaran said. "In most cases IT doesn't really mind if one group of users, like sales, want to adopt a certain technology. They tend to get more involved when they see demand from multiple user groups, but by that time it's typically too late to stop people from using the systems."
Kerravala added that the future of the larger mobile market is being driven by people's demand to access information in the most practical manner no matter where they are or which device they are forced to use to do so.
Based on recent Yankee research, most enterprise workers already feel entitled to begin using consumer technologies they find helpful in carrying out their jobs -- without asking for the thumb's-up from their IT departments.
In Yankee's latest survey of enterprise employees, 68 percent said they feel they have equal or greater control than IT in terms of installing new applications on their business-issued PCs.
Some 49 percent of the workers replied that consumer technologies are already more advanced than those they have access to at work, and 54 percent said they would be more productive in their jobs if they were allowed to use applications they utilize in their personal lives.
Even though IT administrators often cite the enterprise-class manageability and control of the BlackBerry platform as the primary reason it has prevailed as a leading business device, the experts said consumer-driven mobile technologies will advance so quickly that administrators won't have the same luxury of calling the shots and pushing users onto a single type of handheld in the future.
"The advent of consumer technologies in the enterprise is the first thing that has left IT in the dust. In a lot of cases, companies admit that they're not sure how to deal with it, and a lot of the use of the technology is being driven by different age groups and work styles," Kerravala said. "People on IT steering committees tend to have a different view of usage than college-aged workers; the role of the IT department is to get involved on matters of policy and allowed use."