The consumerisation of enterprise IT: resistance is futile

I spent a fascinating afternoon with Apple today in the briefing centre above their flagship Regent Street store.  What was even more impressive to my wife (and to me!) was that I managed to resist the urge to go and buy myself, for personal use, the lovely new Macbook Air laptop.  The agenda covered a number of interesting topics including the use of Apple iPad as a corporate device and, specifically, a topic critical to me – the impending Apple iOS 4.2 release.

There are many indicators that CIOs use to judge the emergent trends and the high demand requirements within their remits.  One measure I use is my weekly barometer of the “why oh why cannot I not….” volume of email refrains I receive.  Currently there are two requests dominating this demand flow, the first is “why will you not allow my Android smartphone to connect to corporate systems?” and the close second is “why will you not allow my Apple iPad to connect to the corporate systems for which you support Apple iPhone based access?”.  In this post I’d like to stick with the Apple theme but I will return to the Android request volume at a later point as it is twice the scale of the iPad request volume and is more than matching the levels I saw earlier in the year in relation to our delivering corporate services to Apple iPhone.

Internally we operate a Fujitsu mobility service called Mobile Professional through which I allow company and personally owned smartphones to receive corporate services such as messaging.  The personally owned devices have to meet prerequisites such as operating system/version, operating our corporate airtime provider SIM, individuals signing up to monitoring and remote wiping etc.; however, to date I have refused to certify the iPad OS as it currently fails to meet our minimum requirements but that will hopefully soon change with the release of iOS4.2.  What was really interesting was the conversation I had with the Apple representatives in that meeting around the market trend of IT consumerisation and the opportunity that represents for Apple to grow its share of the corporate market.

Indeed the phrase “corporate market” is an interesting term as the trend for companies to provide cash allowances and give some freedom to their employees to select/operate their computing device of choice.  Clearly as a CIO within a technology company which manufactures laptops I’m not likely to adopt this approach anytime soon!  However, I effectively have implemented a variant of that approach in relation to smartphones, partly recognising that mobile phones are a very personal choice it is hard to consistently meet and partly recognising the value that can be derived from employees purchasing their own if so motivated and thereby removing the device cost from the P&L. The drive of the employee to demand 21st century capabilities at work to match what they have at home rather than being stuck in the late 20th century has been commented upon many times, sometimes under the Generation Y banner and sometimes under IT consumerisation.

What is clear to me and I’m sure to many of you is that, regardless of the driver, the demand is here today, continues to grow in strength and must be harnessed to generate business value, sidestepping the ultimately fruitless war of resistance.  If you accept that point to any level then those technology providers who are dominant in the consumer space are going to become part of your portfolio under corporate management sooner or later. At that point, the key is whether you can manage that evolutionary process to an acceptable level of risk or whether it overwhelms your standards and your ability to contain both the risk and indeed the potential incremental cost implications.

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