Forget the free coffee -- employees really, really want an iPhone

The very devices and apps that workers use to do their jobs are changing, but IT doesn't seem to be adapting

If a new survey by Kelton Research is to be believed, 71 percent of 500 U.S. and U.K. employees feel so strongly about using their own mobile device over what IT offers that they're willing to give up at least one thing in the workplace to keep their preferred device. At 58 percent, free coffee topped the list (perhaps reflecting the quality of typical office coffee), followed by free food (39 percent), and office supplies (30 percent). More than a quarter (26 percent) were even willing to give up paid parking, and 20 percent were willing to give up a vacation day.

Half of the respondents said they would rather choose the mobile device they use at work instead of having the company make this decision for them. Although the Kelton survey was conducted for SAP's Sybase business, which has a vested interest in mobile heterogeneity, as it sells mobile device management (MDM) tools, its findings track with the reality revealed by Gartner and Forrester Research that already more than half of businesses let employees choose among mobile devices, even if the business still buys the hardware.

Although many in IT criticize employees who want an iPhone or Android rather than the BlackBerry historically provided by IT, employees cite productivity benefits to using smartphones of their choosing (which other surveys show usually means an iPhone): 56 percent stated that using these programs on the job makes them more productive. Of that 56 percent, 82 percent of those who use more than three mobile applications for work feel this way, versus 63 percent who use fewer than three apps on the job. In other words, the more mobile apps they use, the more productive they believe they are.

Many workers say they would be quicker to adopt more apps if they were easier to get. Almost half (45 percent) stated that they would use an employer-provided online marketplace for downloading company-approved mobile applications. Most MDM tools offer some sort of internal app store capability -- and IT can easily set up an intranet site with links to recommended iOS and Android apps; plus, Apple recently launched a Business App Store in which private business iOS apps can be distributed and where IT can buy bulk licenses for distribution.

The Kelsey survey also shows that employees believe IT is behind the curve when it comes to mobile technology. Only 19 percent of participants strongly agree that their employers make it as easy for them to do their jobs from a mobile device as they can from a work computer. Almost half (44 percent) stated that they don't have access to enough mobile applications to ensure they can do their jobs as well as they can from their work computers. And only 29 percent claim their companies' IT departments are generally good at managing mobile devices, with just 27 percent speaking highly about their IT department's ability to set up or troubleshoot mobile applications or programs.

Access to and support of mobile devices really does matter. According to VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, 2011 will mark the year when, for the first time, smartphone and tablet shipments exceed those of desktop and notebook shipments. Mobile devices and apps will only grow as employee tools. Will IT adjust?

This story, "Forget the free coffee -- employees really, really want an iPhone," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.