IT not ready to be the ‘Apple Genius Bar’

Aruba Networks' study shows BYOD will shape future of the enterprise, but CMO says the IT department needs to change for the mobile era

The IT professional is going to have to change his or her skillset to deal with the influx of mobile devices in the workplace, according to a new study from Aruba Networks.

The 20/20 vision report questioned 159 IT workers of all levels – alongside a number of smaller focus groups – to discover what skills they felt were needed in the coming years to strengthen their departments, with nearly half – 47% – admitting bring your own device would have one of the biggest effects.  

“For the IT professional, there is so much change [going on] and a broader portfolio of technologies that they have to manage,” said Ben Gibson, chief marketing officer of Aruba.

He claimed the deluge of different platforms, from Apple’s iOS to Google Android, would challenge the typical environments IT professionals were used to working in.

“Nearly a third of those who were asked thought the average user will know more about the devices they use for work than the IT department in the future,” said Gibson. 

“For example, with Apple devices being brought into the business, the average IT support team cannot be the Apple Genius Bar from the retail stores.”

This is not just an issue being faced by non-technical businesses, but IT firms too.

“Even in IT organisations like Aruba, we see the challenges where [our team] are very used to the Windows stack,” he said.  “They are used to Active Directory; that’s your identity, you manage and provision security out to these Win-Tel based systems.

The rise of mobile platforms

“Five years ago, and for the previous 15-20 years, the percentage of end client devices [in] the business environment were 95% Windows-based. In the past four to five years, that 95% has gone down to roughly 45%, with that huge 55% gain [made up of] Apple iOS devices, Android devices, Windows Mobile and other mobile platforms.”

Gibson added: “There has been such a radical shift [and the] dynamic of that creates security challenges, both in policy and technology, and management challenges, but also the knowledge-base challenge of how do you troubleshoot an iPad? 

"IT organisations aren’t necessarily ready to support that today, so there is a big education curve that will have to come up.”

Improving soft skills

The key to addressing this change doesn’t necessarily come from having formal training and getting to know every device in your organisation, but instead from improving a softer set of skills.

The report showed 89% of IT professionals said the biggest challenge they would face would be becoming effective communicators of policy and change to the business, with 41% saying such communication skills would become more important to the IT department than technological know-how and 88% believing they would have to become strong communicators to be successful in their jobs.

The average IT support team cannot be the Apple Genius bar from the retail stores

Ben Gibson, CMO, Aruba Networks

“The technology experts are used to a structured world that is 95% the old, fixed Windows IT stack and it is more challenging for them because it is a different kind of skill set,” said Gibson. 

“It is not understanding the technology, per se, it is adding on top of that explaining complexity into simplicity [for employees].”

Embracing change?

So, would the IT worker of today be happy to change in this way to become the IT professional of tomorrow?

Chris Kozup, senior marketing director for Europe, said the level of acceptance of this varied depending on the job role they were in.

“When we did the focus groups for this study, you could really tell the role they would be doing currently coincided with how comfortable they were with the communications side of things,” he said. 

“In the focus groups, we had a number who focused on a specific part of IT and they tended to be those in the trenches doing the work. With them, you could tell there was a sense of hesitation.

“The idea that your technical skills will not be more important to advance your career than your soft skills made many uncomfortable as it was definitely pushing them out of their comfort zones. 

"But, by the same token, you had some CIOs in the room who said for them when they looked for skills and to build teams, the technology can be taught but the skill set to be able to interface and communicate with the business is something that they were really looking for first and foremost.”

Gibson believed it was not that the workers on the coalface of IT were against the shift, but with the current pressures on the IT department, they didn’t have time to look to the future while juggling the issues they were currently facing.  

“It is not that they want to necessarily resist change, but they are so busy dealing with the way things used to be, with significant investment in that, managing those Windows devices, there is a lot of time and energy put into that,” he said.

“Maybe sometimes it is resistance to change, but sometimes it is that they are too damn busy to invest time into that change.”

However, Gibson concluded: “Mobility is putting some real and very different problems onto the IT professional and [they must become] more business savvy, become better communicators and learn to manage expectations in the coming years.”

Read more on Mobile apps and software