Struggling with the increasing number of mobile devices within the enterprise? You’re not alone. I have spent many of hours thinking about this challenge – and concluded that it’s not so much a technology challenge as a cultural one.
A decade ago, when McKinsey & Company analyzed the effect of IT investment, it found that companies only became more productive when investments in technology were matched with new ways to work. It seems odd now, but at the time, academics were questioning whether computers had made us more productive at all: we had found some ways to make individual jobs more efficient, but we were not working less, or creating more as a group.
Collaborative working based on Internet communications helped to solve that problem. But it showed us that, often, we know the answer – we just have to be given the freedom to express it. During the Internet revolution we suddenly found that our computers at home were easier to use than the ones at work. While organizations struggled to communicate and share information, the world wide web created a global community for whom it was natural.
Now we have a new opportunity. Millions of us are showing the way from the bottom up, using the devices and applications we like best. In many cases, our employers treat this as a problem or a risk that needs to be stopped. But if we can absorb the positive parts of that change into work culture, the reward is that we can be more creative, produce higher quality work, and improve the working experience of employees.
The effects of consumer technology are already being felt: 70 percent of companies have changed at least one business process and 20 percent of companies have changed at least four or more business processes, change management specialist Avanade reports.
To look at how consumer IT can change the way we work, simply look out of the window. When your colleagues arrive for work, they’re checking their personal information, their social networks, arranging their day – on the move, in a few seconds, without thinking about it as a task. Often they are using security that’s hidden from them, accessing data without needing to know where it is stored, and linking to groups of friends or relatives to solve problems and make decisions. We don’t need instruction books for our devices any more. At its best, consumer technology is intuitive by design, in a way that workplace applications rarely are.
But how do we design work that is intuitive, opportunistic, creative, and doesn’t need a manual? That has, so far, been less successful. There’s also evidence that many companies are working harder, but not necessarily more efficiently. The US labor force survey shows that the impact of flexible working has mostly been that we do more overtime.
But maybe that’s to be expected. It took years to apply the benefits of the PC revolution to our office culture, and now we’re starting down a similar road with consumer technology.
Maybe the inhibitors are that we still measure the same things as we did when centralized IT departments were a novelty. We exercise control in silos, leading to inflexible security, and accidentally making it difficult to build cross-functional teamwork. Now that CoIT is a fact, we could potentially measure and incentivize other things – satisfaction with work, the ease of getting to the information we need, whether our processes are really as simple as they could be.
These measures are often foreign to an IT department, but are second nature to games or smartphone designers, where the need for consumers to understand intuitively, to want to complete the task, and to feel that their device is safe and secure without limiting their imagination, are the essential measures of success.
But this goes far beyond the IT department. It asks fundamental questions of management: how much do we trust our staff to organize their own work? What are teams for, and how do we make them work? Is efficiency doing the same thing a bit faster, or thinking of new ways to do things? What is the office for, and when should I be in it? The decisions we make, and way in which we communicate those decisions to our supposedly Empowered colleagues, will decide the success of consumerization. As with the PC revolution, it’s not about the device, it’s how we work together when those devices are put in our hands.