The consumerisation of IT: it’s a trickle, not a tide, but you still need to be ready

If media headlines and supplier claims are to be believed, organisations today are faced with an unstoppable tide of many different types of personal device connected to the corporate network

If media headlines and supplier claims are to be believed, organisations today are faced with an unstoppable tide of many different types of personal device connected to the corporate network, and Generation Y employees (or prospective employees) who don't want to work for them if they can't use their latest gadget for business purposes, writes Martha Bennett, vice-president, head of strategy at Freeform Dynamics.

But is it really like that? To find out, in September 2011, Freeform Dynamics carried out an online survey of more than 1,600 IT and business professionals. We asked about respondents' own preferences and habits with regard to personal technology, as well as what's going on within their organisations. The answers we got suggest that the level of media and supplier hype about the consumerisation of IT is at risk of masking some of the real trends and issues.

Let's start with prevalence: is the use of personal devices for work a tide about to swamp organisations, or a trickle that can safely be ignored?

A look at Figure 1 below shows that we are by no means faced with a tide that's about to sweep all before it. That said, "unofficial" use of personal devices for work purposes has become established in a minority of organisations, and many more report some degree of bring your own device (BYOD).

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In terms of unofficial kit - equipment that has not been supplied by or funded by the employer - Windows-based PCs and notebooks dominate, followed by iPhones, Android smartphones and iPads. As might have been expected, Apple Mac also features strongly, mainly in the shape of notebooks. Not many use personal Blackberry devices for work, but that has to be seen in the context of Blackberry still being the favoured company-issued smartphone.

Freeform Dynamics

Figure 1

So we're not looking at a torrent of BYOD today, and "device proliferation" exists largely in supplier marketing literature. But - to stick with the flood analogy - there is definitely a hole in the dyke. And trying to pretend that consumerisation is not happening is akin to sticking a finger in that hole: it may be possible to plug the hole for a while, but either it will get bigger, or the water will come over the top.

In other words, now is a good time for business and IT to assess what can - and should - be done to address consumerisation in their organisation before increasing unofficial use of technology creates significant support and/or security issues.

Many businesses already have policies in place to govern the use of personal devices for work purposes, but for others this aspect remains a work in progress, and a considerable number have taken no action at all. But important as it is to have appropriate policies in place, the issue extends beyond policy - our research shows that even in organisations where use of personal equipment for work purposes is banned completely, it nevertheless goes on.

So what should companies do? Consumerisation of IT is as much an issue for the business as it is for IT. In many organisations, it is time for the business to acknowledge that it is often the executives who are creating the most headaches for IT, and potentially the biggest exposure in terms of security.

Our research shows that Generation Y is not the main driver behind BYOD. Leaving aside the IT folks themselves, it's the executives who are using - and in many cases demand to use - devices for work that have not been officially issued by the company (see Figure 2).

The inevitable support and security issues that arise are the same, regardless of whether it's an executive or a recent graduate connecting to corporate resources. But there is one key difference: when it is the executives who are either flouting existing policies or simply doing what they want without asking whether there should be a policy, IT doesn't have much of a chance to enforce or put in place measures for appropriate and safe use of personal devices for work.

Freeform Dynamics Fig 2

Figure 2

Whether you call it BYOD, consumerisation of IT, or something else, this is an issue that needs to be co-owned by business and IT. Together, business and IT executives must decide what is and is not appropriate for their business. And together they must agree on the measures that are to be taken. These will differ between different types of organisation, and will also be determined by the IT infrastructure and applications currently in place. Any solution is likely to be a mix of policy and technology - neither one nor the other on its own will suffice. Many organisations are likely to take a step-by-step approach to adapt, and our research results indicate that they still have time to do so. But adapt they must, before today's trickle becomes a flood.

To read more about the research mentioned in this article, download the full report here.


Freeform Dynamics is a research and analysis firm which tracks and reports on the business impact of developments in the IT and communications sectors. It uses an innovative research methodology to gather feedback directly from those involved in IT strategy, planning, procurement and implementation.

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