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Consumer Toys to Business Tools:
Finding a Middle Ground

Consumer technologies, such as Apple's iPhone, are infiltrating corporate information technology departments. Companies need to adapt so they can innovate and court so-called "digital natives," young workers that are accustomed to the latest gadgets, according to a panel of experts at the EMTM lecture series March 7.

The panel's message was timely. On March 6, Apple announced plans to make its iPhone more business friendly with enhanced security features and better connections to Microsoft Exchange, a leading corporate email platform. The iPhone is an example of a consumer technology that is increasingly being used for corporate means. The EMTM panel, "Googling the BlackBerry Patch — Managing Consumer Infotech Devices and Software for Your Enterprise," was moderated by Jim Senior, a speechwriter for Unisys Corp. who has held a variety of roles in marketing, media, book editing and public relations.

Senior says that consumer devices, which are migrating to the enterprise, pose a conundrum to enterprise technology departments. "Just when you get your information infrastructure set, something else happens. How can we be more predictable in our environment if there's something new everyday?"

Microsoft's Bob Ballard, a unified communications architect at Microsoft, says the iPhone is just the latest device to make the leap from being a consumer toy to a business tool. For instance, the personal computer (PC) began as a consumer product and now is a corporate staple. "You can follow these trends," says Ballard. "The question you have to ask is 'where does this fit?'" Ballard adds that companies need to assess the promise and staying power of new devices and technologies as well as the risks.

To avoid jumping on the wrong bandwagon, chief information officers need to look at developing technologies "through a longer lens" and develop best practices to innovate with new technologies, says Unisys vice president Timothy J. Lambert. Lambert adds that CIOs need to determine whether a new technology is truly disruptive or just part of a natural cycle. In both cases, there are benefits. "Consumer technology is cheaper, but you need to look at the total cost of ownership similar to the approach taken when PCs started to proliferate in organizations and created the incarnation of Shadow IT" says Lambert. "There's also a socio-economic impact in that you reach the younger generation."

Jan Talamo, chief creative officer and co-founder of The Star Group, a full-service marketing communications company, agrees. To reach young creative workers technology departments need to be ahead of the curve and adopt new technologies quickly. "To me it's about changing the user experience in the work environment... that's where Consumer IT and Enterprise IT converge." says Talamo, an iPhone owner.

Balancing consumer IT and corporate goals

Changing the experience at work sounds great, but a balance needs to be struck between adopting consumer technology and corporate requirements such as keeping data secure, complying with regulations and keeping costs low, say EMTM panelists.

"It's not consumer IT versus corporate IT," says Michael Friedenberg, CEO and president of CXO Media, publisher of CIO Magazine. "For CIOs it's about leveraging new technology to further their business." Friedenberg's advice: Consumer technologies are already being used in the enterprise so CIOs need to understand how to leverage them. He adds that companies need to standardize work processes not necessarily technology.

Scott Snyder, CEO of Decisions Strategies International, says the enterprise technology managers need to be adaptive and anticipate change. For instance, instead of waiting for workers to bring devices like the iPhone into the enterprise they can anticipate and plan ahead. Ideally, new devices will be introduced to workers by the corporate IT department. "Tools like scenario planning and real options, often used in EMTM, help decision-makers plan for uncertainty and avoid misplaced precision."

Brendan O'Malley, CIO of Tasty Baking Co., says technology managers have to deal with new technologies and more open corporate networks. O'Malley says that a company could theoretically try to shut out new devices and consumer technology such as Web email applications like Hotmail, but it's not likely to work. "The more IT tightens its grip the more users will resist and find ways to work around restrictions."

Referring to IT people in the EMTM audience, Talamo says that the priority of corporate IT departments should be to cater to workers and enable them to innovate and make the company more profitable. "Its responsibility isn't to imprison; it's to empower. Your IT department is an overhead expense. The front line employees are earners. You should support them so they can earn. You should liberate them. Keep them wired. Keep them happy," says Talamo whose department comprises 150 creative artists at The Star Group.

Managing risks

However, there are challenges with allowing workers to dictate a company's IT approach, says O'Malley. If a company allows workers to bring in any device, there can be support and security problems. "I worry that you've turned over too much (control) and you don't know what's there. IT needs to understand new technology and bring it to workers. Saying you can do whatever you want and go for it makes me cringe. IT needs to take the lead in bringing new devices and services to their customers rather than sitting passively by and trying to figure out how to support whatever people happen to show up with." says O'Malley.

O'Malley's concern is that allowing any device or application into a network will increase the risks and costs. After all, technology executives have multiple goals: Meet business goals, avoid security risks and support existing infrastructure.

Friedenberg says there has to be a technology structure in place that satisfies the needs of workers and mitigates risks. "You need some structure in place so someone doesn't get fired. I wish it were all about innovation, but it's also about risk mitigation."

Ballard says that one way to balance the risks between the influx of consumer technology and corporate needs is to think of the IT department as a preschooler's playroom. In a playroom, a child can run freely, but electrical outlets are covered and some areas are blocked. That baby proofing approach applies to corporate IT. "Some places you let people go and other places you don't," says Ballard. "There's a compromise somewhere in the middle."

Panelists agree that the middle ground between consumer devices and software and corporate technology departments will be discovered because there are no other options. "IT has to be flexible today. Moving at the 'speed of need'. ...not the snail's pace of bureaucracy. (Young workers) want the latest greatest technology and they will look for that when they are interviewing with your company," says Talamo.



An Executive Panel discussed the need for companies to adapt — so they can innovate and court so-called "digital natives," young workers that are accustomed to the latest gadgets — in the EMTM lecture series on March 7.


“IT needs to understand new technology and bring it to workers. Saying you can do whatever you want and go for it makes me cringe. IT needs to take the lead in bringing new devices and services to their customers rather than sitting passively by and trying to figure out how to support whatever people happen to show up with.”

Brendan O'Malley
CIO
Tasty Baking Co.

“IT has to be flexible today. Moving at the 'speed of need'. ...not the snail's pace of bureaucracy. (Young workers) want the latest greatest technology and they will look for that when they are interviewing with your company.”

Jan Talamo
Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder
The Star Group

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