Many organisations say their people are among the most valuable assets they have. While this statement is entirely accurate, providing the best working conditions and tools that allow the people to flourish is anything but an exact science.
Empowering users to be creative holds great potential to help organisations quickly exploit new opportunities, but with much of business now dependent on the use of IT systems and personal productivity tools, enabling a workforce can also entail risk. Do the benefits achievable justify the effort in combating such risks?
Freeform Dynamics recently ran an online survey to investigate user empowerment, in which 544 respondents, mostly IT professionals or power users based in the UK, Scandinavia and the DACH region shared their thoughts. The full results of the survey can be found here.
Many IT suppliers today stress the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) as an example of user empowerment, but real benefits arise only when the right culture and mindset are developed.
Relying simply on new access devices and technology fashions is not the whole picture. For user empowerment to be successful it is important that end-to-end IT solutions be put in place to permit users to make business decisions effectively. But – and it is a very big but – the organisation also needs to ensure that users can act rapidly on such decisions.
As Chart 1 below shows, organisations that have a strong culture of user empowerment believe they are very good at harnessing the skills and business capabilities of their people.
But what, precisely, are the benefits delivered by empowering users?
Business benefits of empowering users
As can be seen from Chart 2 below, few of the benefits potentially available through user empowerment are perceived to be compelling by more than a sizeable minority of respondents. That said, it is clear that many benefits are deemed to be worthwhile.
People-related benefits are particularly well represented; factors such as improving employee morale, enhancing productivity and increasing creativity and innovation are recognised by significant numbers of respondents. Such advantages are very difficult to quantify in budgetary terms, but usually represent very good value in terms of generating new business, higher-quality work, and so on.
It is interesting to note that benefits such as making it easier to recruit and keep staff, things with which BYOD is heavily associated, lag far behind. Indeed, considerable doubt is reported by a sizeable proportion of respondents that such benefits exist at all.
Of the inherently more quantifiable benefits, it should be noted that two areas are ranked by significant numbers as having a negative impact. Both concern the financial impact of user empowerment on IT.
Business risks must be addressed
It is clear a broad range of worthwhile benefits can be achieved through empowering users more effectively. So what, apart from developing a suitable culture, is holding things back? In terms of technology, the respondents, many of whom may well be early adopters of the trends discussed, indicate there are risks to be addressed.
As might be expected from a largely IT specialist respondent base, security and compliance feature very highly among perceived risks, as shown in Chart 3 above. Quality issues arising from DIY solutions are also perceived to be potential problems.
Many of the other factors mentioned are also close to the heart of IT professionals as they relate to the potential for time to be wasted, especially via increased support burdens. The possibility that user productivity could be negatively affected also gets a more than honourable mention.
Chart 3 also indicates that enabling user empowerment could raise IT overheads as well as costing the organisation more via fragmented procurement. In times when the global economic situation is delicately balanced and all business budgets are under extreme scrutiny, these are factors that cannot be ignored.
The right tools and effective management
Tackling these issues leads once again back to the nature of the underlying infrastructure required to deliver flexible services. This is especially important given that not all users have the same needs and skills.
Together with comprehensive, yet flexible core IT-enabled business systems, highly empowering organisations also tend to provide a more versatile set of productivity tools and are far more likely to provide users with smartphones and tablets.
But again, it all comes back to management. Organisations with a well-enabled workforce need comprehensive management tools and processes to handle user-driven activity. But good tools alone cannot support anything and everything. Even in organisations that actively empower their employees, users must understand that there are limits on their freedom.
To sum up it all up, technology has a major role to play in empowering users, but solutions must be well thought out and planned, with appropriate resources made available. BYOD and other empowerment initiatives cannot be implemented safely on a zero or negative budget.
Tony Lock (pictured) is programme director of Freeform Dynamics.