There's a disconnect in the world of mobile computing and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in the workplace.
Only one third of CIOs say they allow employees to access corporate networks using personal devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops or other personal-technology choices, according to a survey released today by Robert Half Technology.
CIOs hesitate to allow full BYOD access because they're balancing convenience and flexibility for employees with security and logistical concerns of their employers, according to conclusions in the Robert Half study.
Even among companies that do allow BYOD hardware to connect to the network, only 28 percent offer full technical support. Two thirds of respondents offer limited support, while six percent offer none at all.
Even for those saying explicitly that they support BYOD, that's not a ringing endorsement. Other surveys rate mobile everything and BYOD as prom-queen hot among both road warrior and stay-at-home employees.
That's been true since the first iPhones came out. More recent incentives are based on business results, however, not vanity.
BYOD access points would make it easier for employees in retail stores or salespeople in the field easier access to inventory and other data that might help close a sale. They would also give customers the chance to use online shopping assistants or other digital resources that could pull them more deeply into the sales cycle, according to an April 13 study from the WSJ's CIO Journal.
A Forrester Research study showed what Forrester mobility guru Frank Gillett called eye-opening levels of mobile-device use among employees, but only a third of the devices classed as "mobile" by employees are anything but traditional laptops; even most of the smartphones and tablets are owned by the company, so they're not properly BYOD.
The picture gets a little more clear in a follow-up study blogged by Brian Hopkins that hints employees are going ahead with BYOD despite employers' lack of support:
Half of employees pay for their own smartphone data plans even then they use the phones for work;
Two-thirds of employees in their 20s choose their own tools; 40 percent do so despite company policies against it.
Eighty four percent don't even consider company policy when they choose a device;
Two thirds of older employees also pick devices without thinking about company policy; they just assume the company will support whatever they buy.
Everyone but IT seems to get why BYOD is a good idea
IT people asked about BYOD tend to grossly underestimate the number of personal devices within their infrastructures, just as they did when SaaS and cloud systems started being wheedled in without IT's permission.
That's just a little self-preserving denial according to IDC's Amy Cheah, analyst on an ANZAC study showing more companies may have to adopt BYOD programs to answer pressure from employees.
"Widely publicized and high-profile BYOD case studies are further adding to the peer pressure," Cheah told TabTimes. "One in every two organizations are intending to deploy official BYOD policies, be it pilots, or partial- to organizational-wide rollouts, in the next 18 months."
One reason is that IT still mistakes the technology for what's being done with it, according to Forrester analyst Stephen Mann, writing in December about mobile priorities for 2012.
"We all hear talk about MDM (mobile device management) as 'THE big issue,'" Mann wrote. "To me, however, this is old school IT. We are focused on securing access to the mobile device when I would prefer that we secured access to the IT service. The device is a red herring and of little interest to the customer. They want (or at least we hope that they continue to want) to access your services any which way they can and need to."
"You Need To Support The People Not The Technology," Mann wrote in a November blog whose title states the point better than the blog, because he was writing mainly about how to make a corporate help desk more effective and less despised.
The insight is the same whether you're talking about BYOD or help desk, however: IT continues to focus on its own priorities and try to box the needs of end users into structures built to make IT's job easier (or even possible).
Some of that is inescapable. You can't run group effort effectively without some coordinating principles.
IT – which earned the satiric Dilbertian sobriquet "preventer of information services," even if many won't admit it – has to start seeing the technology for which it is responsible the way the end users do: as tools to get a job done, not ends in themselves.
How to use BYOD to drastically reduce IT's workload: Keep ignoring it
The Consumerization of IT has become so undeniable a trend it has earned its own pointless and slightly provocative-sounding acronym (CoIT). It has made Apple a success, introduced SaaS and cloud into the enterprise, given business units far more control over their own work product than ever before and reputedly scared the hell out of CIOs who suddenly realized the peasants were not only revolting, they were starting a rebellion as well.
Guess what? They don't have to. If you're in IT, there is a small chance you're one of the savvy types popular with end users who already realize that users run the company you work for; they are the company you work for. Their work is the end product of all the company's effort, the thing it offers to customers and for which customers are willing to give money in exchange.
Unless you work at a computer-industry vendor company, customers do not come to you for IT services.
End users come to you, not for IT services, but to ask you to help them get their work done.
Lots of studies show end users are a lot more productive when they're able to pick tools that help do their jobs more effectively than those IT provides.
Mobile tech, especially, tends to add hours and productivity because it comes in to use when end users would otherwise be out of touch, or unable to connect to email, sales data or other sources of information that can help them accomplish something while they stand in line at Starbucks or during halftime at a kid's soccer game.
Those are extra hours, offered free to the corporation that you, as the unhelpful, uncommitted not-quite-supporter of BYOD are giving up (without telling the CEO) because you'd have to make inconvenient changes to pick what you have to admit is very low-hanging fruit.
Do BYOD anyway, even if you don't like it
So figure out how, within your own organizational structure and budget limitations, you can help them do that.
That goal used to be referred to as business-IT alignment. Now it's just "get on the stick and offer the help we need or we'll take back the stick and run you out of the company on it."
Surveys of senior-level IT managers show that a lot of them are worried cloud computing will turn into an outsourcing trend that will end up eliminating their jobs.
Best indications now are that some parts of IT's responsibilities will be outsourced to external cloud providers, but not all. Every company needs someone inside who can help make the complicated stuff work correctly so everyone can get their jobs done.
That's why IT is in no immediate danger of being completely eliminated.
That's not to say individual IT managers or departments aren't in any danger of being eliminated.
Given the overwhelming percentages of end users wanting to use their own devices to do their work, and the comparatively small number of IT departments willing to do much to help them, I'd expect a whole lot of CIOs and senior IT managers will be having very uncomfortable conversations with business-unit managers soon.
Not the kind of conversation that leads to more streamlining of your standardization and technology approval policies. The kind that leads to more standardization and alignment of IT policies with the goals of the company itself.
I'm really surprised there is still this much resistance to BYOD in IT. I know it's a big headache in terms of technology, support, standardization, security, ongoing cell-carrier data plans and all the rest of the complications involved with connecting people and computers on terms acceptable to the humans, not the computers.
It's unquestionably difficult.
Equally unquestionably, it is the future of corporate computing. Maybe not the future for IT, whose future might involve unemployment lines and a lot more free time.
But it's definitely the future of the everyday, every-minute use of technology designed to allow people to live their lives and do their work at the same time.
If you're in IT, how about doing your part to help out? Please?
For your own sakes.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.