Forrester: How consumerisation drives innovation

The “consumerisation of IT is a threat to the status quo and a risk to the security of the firm. Forrester's Ted Schadler. looks at the business benefits.

The “consumerisation of IT” -- employees using devices, applications, and web services without official IT permission -- is a threat to the status quo and a risk to the security of the firm. But consumerization is also a relentless force of employees harnessing technology to improve how they work and what they accomplish. Consumerization is employee-led “groundswell” innovation.

Just how pervasive this force of improvement is becomes clear in Forrester’s study of more than 5,000 information workers in North America and Europe. In this study, we identified two key dimensions of empowered employees.

First, do employees feel empowered to solve problems? We asked workers whether they agreed with the statement, “I feel empowered to solve my own problems and challenges at work.” Because most people were inclined to respond positively to this statement, we counted someone as feeling empowered only if their response was eight or higher on a 10-point scale.

Second, do employees act resourceful with technology? We measured resourcefulness by asking if individuals had downloaded and regularly used at least one unsanctioned application to their PCs or regularly visited at least one unsanctioned website that required a login. These questions revealed stark differences among four different kinds of employees.

Forrester workforce employee survey 2011


The first group is what Forrester describes as “HERO (highly empowered resource operatives)” employees. Such people feel empowered and act resourceful. Here is where the most technology and groundswell innovation comes from — the 17% of information workers who use new technologies and know the company wants them to help customers. HERO employees are the most likely to use advanced technology. Whether they're using tablets, social networking, or collaboration tools, HERO employees are your youngest power users.

The second group is the rogue employee, who is resourceful but does not feel empowered. This group, which includes 13% of all information workers, includes people who use consumer technology to solve problems even though their company doesn't support their efforts. You will find more Rogue employees in engineering or education. They are also the group most likely to feel they have better technology at home than at work. Creative energy is better than complacency, but these unsupported efforts are less likely to contribute to the company's useful work. Your job is to get these employees empowered to meet the organization's challenges.

Locked-down employees feel empowered but don't act resourceful. This group of information workers, 34% of the workforce, is pulling along with the company to solve customer problems. Locked-down employees are the most likely to be older or less well educated, and you will also find them in your financial teams, for example. To get more out of this empowered but unresourceful group, you must provide them with technology resources so they can act on their creativity.

Finally there is the disenfranchised employee. Such staff are neither empowered nor resourceful. The 36% of information workers in this quadrant don't use unsanctioned technology and don't feel empowered to solve problems. They just try to do their jobs. Disenfranchised employees are the most likely to use desktops and email only. You will find more disenfranchised employees in customer service (sadly) or in government positions. They are less likely to be big technology users, work from home, or lead teams. While every company needs some workers who just follow orders, very little groundswell innovation is coming from these ranks.

As you would expect, employees in every country, industry, job type, and company vary widely in their empowered feelings and resourceful actions. In this study, we found more HERO employees in three main areas

HERO levels vary by job type

While we can’t overlook the cultural and regional differences in how people answer survey questions (these factors can alter the results). This study shows that feelings of empowerment and consumer technology resourcefulness vary by country. Information workers in Germany and the UK are overall less likely to feel empowered than employees in the US, Canada, and France.

High-tech, media, and business services. Financial services, healthcare, and government are the industries with the most disenfranchised and locked-down employees. Security and compliance restrictions are a natural barrier to resourcefulness and also to empowerment. High-tech manufacturers, with their focus on technology, have the most “HEROic” staff. The question for industries, like companies with few HEROes, is how much empowerment and consumerisation is enough for their needs?

Empowerment and resourcefulness also vary widely by job type . Roles in IT, marketing, sales, and general management have the most HEROes while healthcare professionals, government workers, and those in customer service have among the fewest. For content and collaboration professionals, it’s heartening to see that your IT colleagues are among the most empowered workers.

You need HERO employees. They are far and away the most likely employees to take your company forward. The data shows dramatic differences between HERO employees who create new solutions and disenfranchised employees who sit on the sidelines .



Can you create more HEROes?

Can you empower people and help them act resourcefully? Of course you can. Content and collaboration professionals can lead a mission to bring business and IT executives together to create a HERO-powered business. This mission is accomplished by focusing on two assets.

First, the climate, the environment a company's executives create. Climate is an easier thing to change than culture. Culture is often embedded into the company's DNA and hard to alter. But a climate of permission to make positive change requires only that your boss agrees. Any boss can do that within limits.

Second is technology, the tools and permission to collaborate and innovate. HEROes and even locked-down employees are resourceful with consumer technology, but they are also provided a complete technology tool kit: devices that allow them to be connected and productive on the go and collaboration tools such as web conferencing, instant messaging, and social technology. Any IT organisation can deliver those tools. It starts a virtual cycle: great tools that employees love leads them to look for other great tools to harness.

This article draws from the Forrester report “How Consumerization Drives Innovation” (May, 2011) by Ted Schadler. Ted is VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester. He is co-author of the book, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business. Ted blogs at:

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