The Consumerization of Technology

Or, how I fell in love with my iPad

By Jason Baker

I finally broke down and bought an Apple iPad last summer. I'm a techie at heart but resisted the temptation to purchase this new technology. I didn't see the point. A tablet was basically a laptop without a keyboard, right? The problem was that every time I attended a business conference, I was one of only a handful of people in the room still lugging around a laptop. Now, almost a year later, if you forced me to choose between my Apple iPad and my Dell laptop, the decision would be easy. Adios laptop.

What is it about the tablet that has turned me-and so many other Minnesota businesspeople-into a rabid supporter in a matter of months? The answer is simple: The iPad is better a better fit for my work life. It's mobile and provides ample computing power in the office, at home and on the road. The iPad is also light-weight. I can slip it into my messenger bag and not know it's there, while transporting my laptop feels like I'm carrying a cinder block around. When I turn on the tablet I can access my applications and the Internet in less than ten seconds. Turning on my work laptop is a painfully slow process: I have to endure a Microsoft Windows bootup, a virus scanning check and a data backup synchronization-the mortal enemies of workplace productivity.  

Today, many businesspeople are buying smartphones and tablets through retailers such as the Apple Store and bringing these personal devices into their workplace. In the tech industry, we call it BYOD: Bring Your Own Device. It represents a new paradigm shift in business IT in which consumer technology devices become common tools within the business. This "consumerization of IT" movement has significant ramifications for your business and your employees.

My current smartphone is more powerful than the computer I had on my work desk a decade ago. Over the course of the next year, the computational power of smartphones will double. It used to be the case that technology advances in the workplace would trickle down to consumers. But now that trend has reversed. Consumer technology has caught up with, and in many cases, exceeded the capabilities of mainstream workplace technology.

Most Minnesota businesses continue to provide their knowledge workers with desktop or laptop PCs. Why is this? This practice hearkens back to an earlier age when many employees didn't own a home computer. If employees owned a home computer, it usually wasn't powerful enough to support the more intensive business applications found in the workplace. In these instances, companies had to provide employees computers in order to do their jobs. 

The office computer was only part of the equation. Businesses also supplied employees with specialized applications that could communicate with complex ERP and financial systems. These applications were designed during an era in which client-server application architectures were all the rage.

Today, the computers your employees have at home are often more powerful than the ones sitting on their desk at work. Your employees' home computers feature high-end graphic cards for playing games or significant amounts of memory for editing home videos, which comparatively make the computer performance at work seem a bit pedestrian. Today's modern applications are mostly web-based. Bulky client-server applications have been replaced by the nimble web browser. Business applications are transitioning to the cloud, making it easier for businesses to support a wide variety of mobile computing devices. 

The real reason most companies continue to supply computers to their employees is due to risk management. Companies are afraid of confidential corporate data slipping through the cracks of the enterprise. If companies had a better handle on these disciplines we would put credit monitoring firms out of business. Many businesses ignore the changing needs of their employees in the name of security and compliance, and there lies the challenge. 

Embracing the consumerization of IT requires employers to balance the needs of employees and the needs of their business. Employers should focus on enhancing employee productivity, inspiring creativity and supporting innovation. Like carpenters bringing their own tools to work, businesses should give employees greater freedom to bring their own computing devices into the workplace and give them the flexibility to install applications that solve immediate problems. 

Here's the best part: When employees bring their own computing devices into the workplace, employers get out of the computer tech support business, effectively outsourcing their IT support to the Apple Store. Now IT staff can focus more time and energy on securing their corporate data and ensuring compliance with data access policies. 

I still carry around a laptop to write articles like this one and create PowerPoint presentations. I'm an equal opportunity techie. I'll always use the right tool for the right job. After decades of experience with traditional computers, I finally embraced the next generation of computing devices. And if I can change, your business can too.