Embracing the consumer IT revolution—at work

Embracing the Consumer IT Revolution—at Work

June 2012

In Canada, a hospital nurse uses the camera on her phone to photograph healing wounds before she reapplies dressing and bandages. When doctors arrive later to see their patients, they no longer have to remove the bandages to check on progress. The health professionals save time, the hospital spends less on supplies and—most important—the patients’ risk of infection is reduced.

What’s remarkable here is that the nurse, to be more productive at work, is using technologies intended for consumers.

And she is not alone. The growing ability of employees to bypass their IT departments and create their own technical solutions is eclipsing the IT function’s role as the source of technological innovation in the organization. And as so-called rogue IT steadily infiltrates many workplaces, executives are grudgingly recognizing that the old way of strictly enterprise-controlled technology is no longer an option.

Enterprise IT, including systems for tracking customer orders and managing relationships with suppliers, is witnessing increased competition from tools that traditionally have been developed for the consumer market. Consumer devices, including tablets and smartphones, as well as software applications like Google Docs and Skype, have become ubiquitous in the workplace and are used in addition to—and sometimes in lieu of—enterprise IT.

In addition, these consumer devices come armed with access to millions of web applications and mobile apps. As app stores add more and more capabilities, iPads, Androids and similar devices evolve into low-cost distribution channels, allowing vendors, big and small, to bypass enterprise IT’s oversight and find ready customers among employees at many companies.

Affordable to almost any employee, consumer IT tools are too common, too dispersed and too practical to not pose a real threat to enterprise IT. As IT departments watch the floodgates open, their biggest question is: How can we harvest the benefits of consumerization while minimizing the risks?

Stories from hospital beds, where lives are at stake, make for good copy. But our research shows that in less dramatic settings, employees are also choosing consumer IT over corporate options.

Almost a quarter of respondents to an Accenture survey of more than 4,000 employees across a variety of industries and organizations in 16 countries report they are using their own personal devices often or very often in the workplace to do their work. More than half are using them at least sometimes. For consumer applications, including social media and other software tools, the figures are similar: Twenty percent often rely on non-sanctioned applications, accessed from outside the corporate firewall, and almost half use them at least on occasion to get their jobs done.

These numbers actually jump significantly when you examine responses from Brazil, China, India and Mexico, the four high-growth emerging markets that we studied.

It’s not hard to understand why employees are moving in this direction. Sidestepping enterprise IT and using your own devices and applications is usually easier, more fun and, let’s face it, often cooler than using what the IT department doles out.

With concerns about security on the one hand and pressure to keep up with innovations coming from the consumer side on the other, organizations are trying to position themselves between unlimited tolerance of consumer tools breaching the corporate firewall and tight controls that do not offer opportunities for innovation by employees. More and more companies, it appears, are trying to move in the direction of tolerance. Click to Enlarge

In fact, we found three broad organizational benefits that could come with higher use of consumer IT.

Employee job satisfaction. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents report that satisfaction could rise if they were allowed to use consumer devices and applications on the job. For the millennial generation, that figure is even higher. As one executive explained, “Neither they, nor their parents, will be satisfied if the technology at work is worse than the technology they have at home.”

The ease of use inherent in consumer tools and their common availability at home translates directly to the workplace. Because employees see what is possible in the consumer world, they expect the corporate IT department to deliver the same—or more.

Productivity. Survey respondents also believe they would be more productive at work with consumer IT. For example, an astonishing 82 percent of Chinese respondents to the survey said they would be “more resourceful” if they were allowed to choose their own hardware and software for work. For many, flexibility is critical.

Not only does consumer IT provide employees with the ability to be productive outside of working hours, it also allows them to find workarounds that are more pragmatic compared to what enterprise IT has to offer. For example, a pharmaceuticals representative decides to use a tablet computer to show a short video to busy physicians, catching them on the run as opposed to having to wait for scheduled appointments.

Innovation. Like the nurse, employees are innovating with consumer technologies rather than looking to their IT department to come up with technical innovations. Consider a former member of the Starbucks Corp. management team. He created an app that allows Android users to buy coffee simply by displaying a bar code on their phones that is linked to their prepaid card account. The app was downloaded 50,000 times in its first month online—to the delight of caffeine addicts.

Employee innovation is not a risk-free proposition, however. As one executive told us: “We definitely don’t want to stifle innovation; on the contrary, we want to stimulate innovation that comes from employees. But we also need to have the right safeguards in place.”

Anarchy and authoritarianism
Indeed, that is precisely what companies are struggling with. They want the benefits—the job satisfaction, the productivity, the innovation—but they also recognize that consumer IT brings with it a set of risks. In our research, we tried to determine how companies are managing this challenge to IT’s traditional role as sole dispenser and manager of hardware and software.

Surprisingly, perhaps, we found that more than a third of organizations have failed to address IT consumerization at all. They have no policies, mandates or incentives in place—or, if they do, they don’t enforce them. The result is often technology anarchy.

For employees, this may work out well—they get to make their own IT decisions. And it may make sense in certain instances—at startups or universities, or in loose partnerships. It can help keep IT infrastructure costs low and foster a culture of innovation. But it can also create serious risks to data security and impede the ability to connect easily within the organization via standardized, compatible technology.

At the other extreme, more than one-third of companies responding take an authoritarian approach. They exercise tight control over the scope and number of consumer devices and applications used inside organizational boundaries. Costs savings are a motivation, as companies hope to save money through standardization, easier maintenance and simplified security measures.

Most organizations opting for this strategy have a corporate- or country-wide contract with a single desktop vendor, and a limited set of hardware and software options. Carried to the extreme, this strategy results in a single organization-wide standard for each category of technology, including email, laptops, cell phones, tablets and productivity tools.

This authoritarian approach has been popular in highly regulated industries where security and privacy are paramount, such as financial services, healthcare and government. The strictly limited technical choices appear to make security simpler to achieve and monitor, while formal policies and vigorous enforcement provide the consistency that a country’s legal system demands in areas such as privacy.

Nevertheless, personal phones and tablets—coupled with 3G or 4G access and technically literate employees—have made it increasingly difficult to curb workers’ use of these devices.

Is there a better way?

Between the extremes of anarchy and authoritarianism, a third strategy is emerging. What we call managed adoption is being followed by more than one-quarter of the companies we surveyed. In companies electing this strategy, executives have accepted that there can be instances where the employees’ use of personal devices and applications for work-related activities and needs is not only acceptable but desirable. And they have adjusted accordingly, recognizing consumer IT’s potential in the workplace. But within this general approach, companies can use a number of different tactics to maintain some boundaries.

Broadening the scope

Broadening the scope of allowable devices—say, by adding an Android phone or iPhone option to a list of acceptable phones—is a simple first step to managing adoption of consumer IT at work. Some firms, rather than approving specific devices, focus on technical requirements instead. For instance, one company in our study provided a set of required specifications (such as encryption, passwords and remote locking) for employee-owned phones that would be used on the corporate network. A nearby electronics retailer, eager to attract the firm’s employees, worked with the organization’s IT department to build a list of phones that met these requirements.

Companies that use this tactic typically require employees to agree to an acceptable-use policy that allows the corporation to remove all company- and non-company-related data from the device should it be lost or should the employee resign. Adding to the complexity of device management is the fact that the legality of such policies varies from country to country. In particular, the ownership of corporate data stored on a device that an employee purchased varies among countries. To address concerns about data security, many IT executives are counting on the next generation of smartphones.

To address concerns about data security, many IT executives are counting on the next generation of smartphones. These devices promise to be equipped with multiple independent processors that virtually split the phone into two containers: one-half contains the employee’s personal data and applications; the other half hosts the corporate email, address book and calendar. On phones with this feature, work-related data could be made available for viewing only and would not be downloadable to the device. Security features including encryption, remote locking and wiping would be available for corporate information and applications but not for personal data stored on the device.

As devices are increasingly equipped with this two-container model and as cloud services become more widely adopted and standardized, this strategy of broadening the scope of allowable devices will become less risky, and therefore more acceptable, to businesses with strict security needs.

Organizations may also choose to widen the range of applications employees can use for work purposes. As long as employee-chosen consumer applications do not interfere with existing enterprise systems, companies seem more willing to add them to their portfolio. For example, in lieu of a CRM system, small companies often choose Facebook as the way to keep in touch with customers. In other organizations—small or large—Yammer is a popular tool that provides a forum for employees to discuss and answer ad hoc questions that the corporate knowledge management system often cannot. Click to Enlarge

Sometimes, however, employees’ choices interfere with enterprise standards. For example, staff members at a property management company in our study had independently chosen a free consumer app that let engineers and clients share drawings. Management later asked employees to use another application that, while more expensive, seemed to offer greater data security.

Broadening the scope can be a first step toward embracing IT consumerization within the corporate firewall. Indeed, the majority of our interviewees who have chosen the adoption strategy are using this tactic to execute it. They see broadening as a safe way to venture into unknown territory.

However, there’s a downside. Constantly updating the list of acceptable devices and applications is tedious. It requires consensus across the entire organization and a series of approvals across all levels. In addition, the devices and applications involved can quickly become obsolete, potentially causing frustration among employees if they don’t have the latest and greatest.

Enticing choice

Another adoption tactic is to provide employees with IT allowances as a job benefit. Through this tactic, employees receive a stipend they use to pay for their own IT devices, app subscriptions or new software releases. The stipends usually come with constraints—often, employees must choose from a list of acceptable items. Companies may also include this option as part of a cafeteria-style benefits program: Some employees will choose a health-club membership; others, an allowance for a new laptop or a monthly cell-phone bill.

One high-tech enterprise we studied has used this approach for several years. The company gives its US employees an annual stipend of $2,000 and provides different amounts to employees in other countries, based on local economics. The firm maintains a master list of acceptable choices covered by the “gadget budget” as well as a process for approving new ones; iPhones and iPads are currently on the list, while the Kinect is not. An executive wryly explained to us that “the gadget budget is more powerful than cash, plus our employees don’t have to justify their latest tech purchases to their spouses.”

For this tactic to work, companies must keep the list of acceptable technologies current and establish an efficient approval process. All this takes time and effort. But the benefits are worth it.

Enticing choice works well if employees are technically literate and expect to be able to use current technology to manage their job. In the high-tech organization described above, employees are familiar with the latest technologies and know which ones the company’s customers are adopting. Moreover, thanks to their technical sophistication, they are well positioned to provide technical support for themselves and their colleagues. These talents could free the company’s IT support team from some of its traditional duties, leaving more time for new R&D projects.

Segmenting by role

Employees have different levels of need for, and interest in, using consumer technology in the workplace. For many organizations, it therefore makes sense to segment the workforce by roles and job descriptions, and to tailor consumer IT policies to their needs. If the CEO wants an iPad, for instance, he’ll get it, and IT will support it.

But a tablet may make sense for other employee segments as well—such as sales reps in a pharmaceuticals company. These reps often conduct quick meetings with physicians in hospital corridors. A convenient tool that lets them demonstrate and discuss products could be a boon in these settings. In a clinic, doctors might need tablets to view medical images, while nurses, who communicate mostly by texting, might be better served by smartphones.

One consumer products firm in our study identified 10 different role categories and developed an IT consumerization profile for each. Employees in one segment are permitted to purchase one of several smartphones at company expense. Those in another segment can buy a phone and an iPad. Workers in a third segment can select from a set of acceptable phones and, if they sign on to the security policy, may be partially reimbursed for the cost of the device and the monthly bill.

This tactic works well for companies that have a diversified workforce with varying technological needs. While it requires substantial planning and development, it promises to align job content with technological tools efficiently and effectively.

Advocating uptake

Some firms see real business advantages in aggressively advocating the use of cutting-edge consumer electronics in their organizations. Some airlines have begun replacing their massive amounts (up to 40 pounds’ worth) of paper material, such as operating manuals and logbooks, with electronic versions accessed by iPads, and the U.S. Air Force is buying up to 18,000 iPads for use as electronic flight charts and manuals. British Airways also began a trial program in which flight attendants were equipped with tablet computers preloaded with passenger manifests.

UK bank Standard Chartered has also taken the leap, giving iPhones to 12,000 employees. Through apps downloaded from the bank’s internal app center, employees can now remotely tap into the company’s back-office systems and communicate with increasingly tech-savvy customers anywhere, anytime. Similarly, a law firm selected iPads to enable its attorneys to read, mark and edit legal documents, thus developing richer interactions with the firm’s high-tech clients.

Advocating uptake is particularly appropriate for organizations that want to demonstrate how technology can be employed in new, and perhaps unanticipated, ways. It can also prove valuable for enterprises that recognize these technologies’ power to quickly enhance business processes.


As one executive in our survey put it, “The genie is already out of the bottle.” Consumer IT will play a growing role at work as the capabilities of consumer devices continue to outpace those provided by enterprise IT. The marriage of consumer devices, app stores, the cloud and a technically proficient workforce signals a tipping point after which consumer IT will fundamentally—and irreversibly—transform enterprise IT.

For executives grappling with this change, the key is to find a path to carefully managed adoption. The four approaches here, alone or in combination, can make the path much smoother. They all point to the ultimate goal: to develop thoughtful, pragmatic strategies regarding consumer IT that will attract the best employees to your workforce and sharpen your company’s competitive edge.


For further reading
The Promise of Consumer Technologies in Emerging Markets” by Jeanne G. Harris and Iris Junglas
The Wide World of Consumer IT: A Crash Course for Executives” by Jeanne G. Harris, Iris Junglas and Brian Long
Consumer IT: The Global Workplace Revolution Has Begun


Sidebar 1 | Natural selection: How IT departments can remain relevant
The influx of consumer technologies into the workplace is a truly Darwinian moment for IT departments. Yet few executives recognize it as a strategic issue. Fewer still have figured out how to address the long-term implications. While definitive answers are elusive, they must be grappled with today if enterprise IT is not to be pushed to the sidelines in the next few years. To remain relevant, IT departments must:

  • Learn what employees are doing with consumer technology at work. Drop the blanket ban on Internet services. Employees are ignoring bans on Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and the like anyway.

  • Understand that future IT innovation will most likely come from the consumer world, not from the enterprise market, as the economics and the speed with which new consumer technologies are maturing is simply overwhelming.

  • Pick a group, set some ground rules for a technology category (say, smartphones), set a per-person budget and see how people do with it.

  • Embrace consumer tools as a recruitment tool. Some companies already use their support for open systems and popular mobile devices like tablets and smartphones to impress their flexibility upon job candidates.

  • Understand that while IT has played a vital role for business innovation in the past, business executives are now able to create these opportunities on their own. It is likely that in the near future, business units will become stewards of their own data and take away some of the IT responsibilities from the IT crew.

  • Reexamine your corporate IT’s priorities, budget and responsibilities. Figure out what should be retained by the IT department and what should be shifted to business units and employees. Shift investment priorities from building and maintaining hardware and software to creating and managing intellectual property, unique processes and proprietary data.


Sidebar 2 | About the research
The Accenture Institute for High Performance’s research project on IT consumerization was designed to understand the breadth and depth of the phenomenon: its drivers, benefits and drawbacks, and the strategies companies are using to manage it. We interviewed 47 business and IT executives from 30 firms that were mostly large or very large and that represented a cross section of industries. This data was supplemented by a survey of almost 4,100 full-time employees in 16 countries across a variety of industries, at organizations with more than 100 employees.


About the authors
Jeanne G. Harris is an executive research fellow and a senior executive at the Accenture Institute for High Performance in Chicago.

Iris A. Junglas is a research fellow and a manager at the Accenture Institute for High Performance in Boston.


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 This Article is Tagged: Electronics and High Tech. Technology
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Embracing the consumer IT revolution—at work | Accenture Outlook 
More and more employees are using their own devices and choosing their own software, in addition to—or instead of—their corporate-provided IT. Company executives must learn to manage this fundamental change, giving up some control in return for the benefits consumer IT brings to the workplace.
consumer it revolution, corporate-provided it, accenture outlook
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