How to harness the power of consumerization

So you've said yes to the use of personal tech. How do you make it work for and in your business?

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?

[ Also on InfoWorld: Simon Phipps offers 7 reasons Google's Nexus 7 beats the iPad. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

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.

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