Consumerization trend creates IT worries, worker benefits

A Cisco-commissioned survey of 600 businesses found that 95 per cent permit the use of employee-owned smartphones and tablets in the workplace.

The survey also found that 76 per cent of IT managers consider the consumerization-of-IT a positive for their companies because employees can be more productive and feel more satisfied with their jobs.

Cisco’s study even put a dollar value on the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, estimating productivity gains with workplace use of consumer devices of between $300 and $1,300 annually, depending on the worker.

Despite that value, however, BYOD has costs, especially for IT support. Cisco’s survey found that 20 per cent of all IT spending in 2014 will be for mobility initiatives, up from 10 per cent in 2010.

“No doubt, BYOD’s difficult, and if there were a way to get out of it, IT would,” said Joseph Bradley, general manager of Cisco’s Internet business solutions group, which commissioned the survey. “It’s a serious challenge. But what the survey shows is that IT understands that consumerization’s actually happening and they wonder how they can create value. It’s a painful process, not just to support a consumer device, but provide security. There are so many things to consider.”

The survey validates what might seem obvious to many IT managers who have been grappling with the consumerization trend for years, well before the first iPhone’s introduction in 2007.

IDC analyst Rohit Mehra said that while Cisco’s survey shows 95 per cent of companies allow use of consumer devices on corporate networks in some fashion, the number of consumer devices accessing business applications inside of an enterprise is still relatively small.

Only 41 per cent of employee-owned consumer devices were used to access business applications, according to a survey IDC conducted last year, Mehra said.

“It’s one thing to just let an employee-owned device on the [corporate Wi-Fi] network [for browsing or social networking] and not allow access to enterprise applications, and that penetration is pretty high,” he said. “But the real proof in the pudding is how many users have true enterprise application access with their devices, and those numbers are still relatively low.”

Analysts said the BYOD trend has led to an expanding number of Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendors eager to help IT groups better manage devices running on different operating systems. Generally, MDM software offers ways to inventory which users have certain devices and permission to access various internal apps. Security capabilities in MDM give IT the ability to wipe data from devices and block access to certain applications.

Gartner has estimated there are 50 to 100 MDM vendors globally, depending on how the category is defined. IDC said the entire MDM market was about $300 million in revenue in 2010, but will reach $1.2 billion in 2015.

With such a large market for MDM, choices for IT managers will only grow more complex, analysts said. In addition to MDM, some vendors profess it is better to control content and not devices and call themselves Mobile Content Management providers. Some wireless device controls are packaged by vendors along with smartphones or tablets or added by wireless carriers.

A variety of Telecom Expense Management (TEM) vendors are now also offering MDM support.

Global TEM vendor Quickcomm recently blogged about the value of combining MDM with TEM services to lower support costs for end user devices.

Ian Murray, head of customer solutions for Quickcomm, said his company recommends MDM software from partners such as MobileIron, Sybase Afaria and AirWatch.

“Very few IT groups can deal with all the operating systems end users have” on new devices, Murray said. “We find companies are toying with BYOD because employees are bringing in devices and expecting to work with them. So IT is reacting and, yes, there’s concern about how to get their hands around the problem. Those companies are in the minority still, and a lot of companies are taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

For traditional TEM, Quickcomm offers the ability to save up to 30% on telecom expenses, including wireless fees paid to carriers, at a cost of less than 5% of the total telecommunications costs, Murray said.

Even though companies are wrestling with ad hoc use of consumer devices by their workers, many organizations have planned and executed rollouts of smartphones and tablets to reduce costs.

One unusual example is the city of Wichita Falls, Texas, which has rolled out seven iPad 2 tablets to municipal court workers, including Municipal Court Judge Larry Gillen, to reduce paperwork and backlogs for traffic ticket and other non-criminal legal proceedings.

The tablets are a recently added wireless extension of a content management system from Laserfiche that was installed two years ago at a cost of $132,000, said Patrick Gray, database applications analyst for Wichita Falls.

The judge and court clerks can use the iPads for real-time updates of judgments in cases, sometimes even right from the judge’s bench, Gray said. The judge can even easily work on cases remotely when defendants aren’t in the same location. “He can work on the move, and a two months’ wait for a record under the old system might be a two-minute wait,” Gray said.

In terms of paper reduction, the iPads and Laserfiche approach have reduced 14 file cabinets-full of paper records to two drawers in a single cabinet, with a resulting savings in records processing, Gray said. He didn’t have an estimate of the amount saved, but said, “It’s cost effective and paying for itself. There’s savings in paper and to the community looking up documents.”

Like so many IT managers, Gray said that integrating new technology takes some customer-service swagger that software and vendors can’t really provide. Gray said he was fortunate to find a tech-savvy end user in Gillen, who has helped others understand the value of tablets as an extension of the content management system.

“He’s a very tech-savvy judge, and can even write scripts,” Gray said. “He’s been able to be proactive.” Eventually, the iPads could be used for videoconferences, allowing the judge to administer cases from his bench without going to the jail, Gray said.

“What I learned with this process was not to go paperless all at once, to start small…,” he said. “You have to get the main people to accept [technology] and make it theirs. It’s a lesson that if you are in IT, you better be good at customer service. End users look at an IT person and think, ‘He’s a geek and smarter than the rest of us,’ so you have to work at it.”

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt’s RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

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