D For Device? Or Data? Or Both?

I think most people would agree that the blurring of the boundary between our working and personal lives is accelerating.  I know from many discussions that some people are more comfortable with that trend than others.  Typically those yet to see their 35th birthday seem to be mostly supportive, those that have gone past that milestone tend to be at best more sceptical at the value proposition.  There are countless case studies on highly successful companies that demonstrate their success is linked in some way to their employees having a personal commitment and deep affinity to the corporate objectives. However, recently I have read a few reports which argued that part of building that alignment can be enabled by removing the distinction between corporate devices and personal devices.  They argue that in some way this step impacts on the psyche of the employees making work more personal and so building a stronger sense of ownership.  Typically the term used in this context is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) although there is a variant which has proponents where the employee is enabled to select device of choice from a defined catalogue, namely Choose Your Own Device (CYOD).  The latter is intended to mitigate perceived risks associated with the operating model of BYOD and its implicit wide range of device options.

BYOD Figure shutterstock_156558971

I must confess to have some doubts on the impact ascribed to BYOD in the context of employee empowerment.  I certainly accept that it can reduce operating expenses and decrease the level of corporate investment in enabling technology.  I have been involved in defining and deploying a BYOD strategy twice thus far in my career.  I can point to the financial benefits arising from trading convenient access to selected corporate data stores from employee’s smartphone for the cost of providing a corporate variant.  However, the more I talked to CIOs who have deployed BYOD schemes and some of their highly enthused employees I have heard the empowerment message coming through loud and clear.  A very confident “millennial” enthusiast for BYOD pointed out to me that she saw her smartphone and tablet as being in many ways an extension of her personality.  The growth of highly personalised wearable devices which often have a key link to the smartphone of choice is only going to make this blurred boundary more challenging.   It seems likely that intelligent watch is going to become mainstream particularly now with the arrival of the Apple Watch.  People are not likely to distinguish between their personal and corporate watch.  They will want the benefits from their device of choice in the workplace both in personal and corporate terms.

However, accepting that engagement can be driven upward by a BYOD scheme it is very clear that the most important “D” in that context is not the “device” but rather the “data”.
Information assurance and how the corporate data set is protected is undoubtedly the key to unlock BYOD deployment and the promise of more engaged, committed and enabled employees.  Data Security shutterstock_104783210 (2)If you cannot securely manage access to the corporate data employees need or want or both to access from their own device then the scope of the BYOD deployment is going to be constrained and most likely disappoint the user community.  We can all identify sectors where this constraint is in place.  Indeed it is clearly shown when you look at BYOD adoption by industry sector analysis that there are sectors where there are specific restrictions driven by information assurance policies.

I recently read (in a Forrester report I think) that by 2017 over 50% of private sector organizations will no longer provide devices to their employees.  This same report highlighted that the majority of IT decision makers believe they would be at a competitive disadvantage if they do not embrace BYOD.   A quick look via the internet search engine of your choice will provide a great deal of material on how to define and deploy a BYOD policy.

There are some great case studies available from the early adopters with  interesting insights including one that stuck in my memory of a company whose network performance was crippled as the BYOD was so successful and their policy did not limit the number of devices each employee could bring to the party.   The vast majority of what I have read focuses on the criticality of managing access to the corporate data and so the associated risk.  So you have the classic compromise situation whereby the drive from employees for an expansive BYOD deployment needs to be balanced with a securely managed data access model.  If these two aspects can be balanced then there is undoubtedly huge value in what can be derived from embracing BYOD.  Indeed many would argue that approaching corporate IT from the “IT consumerisation” user perspective can lead to valuable innovation of the corporate data security model.  A good case for  this line of argument is made by Stacey Leidwinger in her blog post entitled “Embracing Employee Empowerment“.

At the heart of this debate are what might be termed two absolute truths.  Employees that are frustrated and thwarted by restrictive technology will generally find a way around those obstacles or at the very least introduce risk by trying to do so.  At the same time in the digital age it is clear that security of corporate data must not constrain user enablement.    I think it is well recognised today that King Canute like IT departments that attempt to resist the oncoming tide of end user expectations are going to find themselves drowning under a wave of “Shadow IT” challenges.  They may well find that crucially in so doing they have driven a range of key business risks subterranean too.

Part of this post has previously been published on the Business Value Exchange.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Digital Literacy – A Corporate Perspective?

A recent blog post by Vincent Rousselet entitled “A Tale Of Digital Literacy”  resonated greatly with me.  I particularly liked the discussion on whether Instagram was a force for ill between his daughters!  However, it starting me thinking about two questions: what exactly is the definition of digital literacy and how does that relate to the corporate IT?  A quick meander around the Internet courtesy of the ubiquitous Google and I found this excellent blog post by Cindy Plunkett, “What Is Digital Literacy?” .  There is a wealth of excellent material on this site and on many others debating the societal imperatives in the digital age.  I particularly liked the quote from Alvin Toffler I came across on what being illiterate in the twenty first century means, namely “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.


I do despair of those in the corporate world that equate mastery of the digital world with knowing all about the latest and greatest technology, generally focused on the latest end user device. I tend to label the technology fad obsessed senior executive as being a devotee of the “Magpie Approach” to technology.  These technology enthusiasts sadly confuse the allure of the latest shiny thing with considered adoption of technology to derive business benefit with an appropriate assessment of the associated risks of being an early adopter.  Now I am not arguing that being an early adopter of a new technology is a bad thing, what I am arguing is that sitting at the pointy end of technology advances is a high risk strategy that needs to be underpinned by a clear sighted assessment of the risk to reward equation.  Generally my heart sinks in the corporate context when I hear people enthusing about the latest tablet, smartphone, laptop, application or business solution.  In my view once people view technology with the same perspective most of us apply to a new pen or other commonplace tool they are probably taking a balanced view. If they enthuse first about the business benefits that the new shiny IT object can deliver and then make a passing comment to exercise their inner geek, my alarm sensors see nothing worthy of triggering an alert!

Digital literacy in the corporate context needs the senior executives to be focused on leverage exciting benefit from the unexciting and the workforce trained and empowered to make effective use of the technology tooling. Clearly a sense of buzz generated from shiny new devices can be a powerful motivator as part of the adoption process within the business change programme, but it should just be the means to an end not the means in itself.  So ultimately I am arguing that the digitally literate senior executive is someone that understands the value to be gained from the digital world but is not unduly driven by the glittering latest shiny new technology.  I am arguing that once you view technology as a tool to be deployed in the digital age to enable and empower your business, then that is when as a business leader you are digitally literate.

Image via Shutterstock.com

This post was previously published on the Business Value Exchange.

Innovating – keeping it relevant and real

Over recent months I have had ample time to catch up on my “to be read” collection of interesting articles and magazines.  I will confess to having consumed a large number of publications related to cycling that probably could see me be labelled obsessive  particularly as since October I’ve not been fit enough to ride my bike!  However, among all the cycling material consumed I read an article in MIT Sloan Management Review (Fall 2012 edition, volume 54) that really struck a chord with me.

The article was titled The Benefits of Combining Data With Empathy (the majority of it is behind a pay-wall I’m afraid).  It argues that to succeed in the future companies will increasingly need to find an approach that whilst being optimised in terms of business processes and technology enablement is also able to foster emotional connections with their client base and as part of that relationship building be able to use data empathetically.  The authors Ritu Agarwal and Peter Weill make a strong argument  for what they term “softscaling”.  This is an approach which has three key strands

  • creating emotional connections to customers, employees and business partners,
  • achieving operational excellence in terms of both cost and outcome, and
  • combining timely analysis of data with a clear understanding of the context to arrive at optimised empathetic decisions.

The authors argue that you need to excel at all three aspects of “softscaling” to reap the rewards.  The paper is based on research conducted in India and at five major companies in detail.  What particularly registered with me at the time was the human centric nature of the approach they are advocating.

The article was given resonance when I read the annual IBM Next 5 In 5 forecast of the five innovations that will most impact our world in the next five years.  This year IBM is talking about the innovations that will underpin the next evolution of computing, an era which IBM describe as “the era of cognitive systems“.  They believe that “this new generation of machines will learn, adapt, sense and begin to experience the world as it really is…..predictions focus on one element of the new era, the ability of computers to mimic the human senses – in their own way to see, smell, touch, taste and hear.”  The promise of these “cognitive systems” is that by operating from a human centric perspective they will help us “see through complexity, keep up with the speed of information, make more informed decisions, improve our health and standard of living, enrich our lives and break down all kinds of barriers – including geographic distance, cost and inaccessibility“.  Bold and exciting statements that the paper from IBM then continues to explore in detail in a very clear and engaging manner.  I urge you to take the time to read the IBM material, I think it is their most compelling annual forecast so far.


It is not just the technology sector that are seeing major potential in the bringing of digital intelligence to the physical world.  Recently there was an interesting article in The New York Times on General Electric’s plans entitled  Looking To Industry For The Next Digital Disruption.    The article outlines how General Electric will have invested £1 billion by 2015 in a new software centre to leverage what many call “The Internet of Things” and which GE term the “industrial Internet”.  GE believe that they have a $150 billion sized opportunity to drive efficiency into their operations by enabling their “industrial Internet”.  To reach that goal GE are embedding sensors on everything, from “a gas turbine or a hospital bed” and investing heavily in the software component to gather and make sense of the vast streams of data created.   It certainly brings a strong sense of concept becoming reality when you have an leading industrial company outside of the technology sector investing this materially.

Ensuring that innovations are viable and can deliver value in the real world is always a key concern.  A recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly looked at this necessity in an article entitled Battle-Test Your Innovation Strategy.  Ensuring that your “great new idea” is as good as you believe it to be could save a lot of wasted time and money, ensuring that if you are going to fail that you fail early.  McKinsey looked at how some companies are using war games to assess their product and services innovations by simulating the competitive real world and how the many variables might react to a given startling brilliant new idea.  This approach is an interesting variant of the scenario planning technique that many companies use at the strategic level but don’t always take to sufficient granularity as the idea evolves into a proposed new product or service. I found the McKinsey article a thought provoking read and it certainly hammered home the importance of ensuring your beloved innovation is sufficiently road-tested at each stage of its evolution.