March 05, 2012, 4:41 PM — The spread of consumer technologies at work has put many IT departments on the back foot, but a conference in San Francisco this week is looking at ways IT managers can take back control and turn the chaos to their advantage.
IPads and smartphones are only the most visible consumer trends shaking up the workplace. Social networking, a proliferation of free online services and an expectation of slick, Google-like interfaces are all pressuring IT departments to rethink their game.
A decade ago, just 10 percent of devices in the workplace were "unsanctioned," or outside the control of the IT department, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, executive vice president of strategy at Dachis Group, a business consulting firm. Today, he said, it's at 30 percent and rising fast.
"We're only 20 percent away from most IT being outside the control of the IT department. That will make us not the IT department any more," he told the crowd at the Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise conference.
The answer: to embrace and control the consumer trends rather than try to fight them. "If you try to block it, it will go around you," Hinchcliffe said.
First Data, the big U.S. payments services provider, has armed 150 of its sales staff with iPads and will extend that to 800 by mid-year. It built a custom iPad 2 app that makes it easier for its staff to sell more of its products and get contracts signed more quickly.
"Our sales people carried around books and forms; they only sold a few of our products because the rest were too confusing," said Don Stockslager, vice president of boarding tools, strategy and support at First Data.
The app created a single access point for all of First Data's products. The reps create a profile for each customer and the app makes recommendations based on their buying history and preferences, and draws up a contract on the spot that the customer signs with a stylus.
"As soon as the customer lifts their pen, the data starts moving in the background and draws up the account," he said.
It took some work getting there. First Data created a service-oriented architecture on the back end to abstract away the complexity of the myriad systems the iPad app has to talk to.
Beer distributor Ben E. Keith also gave its sales team tablets, which were "hands down the favorite form factor for our pilot group of sales reps," said Steve Fleming, the company's vice president of administration and information.
Beer reps get an average of 40 seconds to pitch store managers, he said, and the tablets allow them to look up information quickly about the different kinds of beer, and even show the latest Super Bowl commercial to drum up interest in a product.