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Consumerize This: Supporting consumer devices and cloud

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How consumerization of the enterprise changed the way workers see IT

IT pros used to bring new technology to users, but the consumerization of the enterprise gave that power to workers. Admins have to play catch-up.

The consumerization of the enterprise has altered how and when employees work, but it has also changed the way they view IT professionals.

Todd KnappTodd Knapp

When mobile devices first hit the scene, some users were resistant to the idea of being constantly connected to work. In fact, IT pros were the ones who brought smart mobile devices into the enterprise and sang their praises. Once employees adopted BlackBerry and Palm OS devices, they saw IT as advocates empowering them to be more efficient.

Today, many IT departments have to put the kibosh on allowing workers to use certain devices and services, which is not always well-received by employees. IT isn't always prepared to handle the latest and greatest devices, but this new perception of IT is a good thing, said Todd Knapp, founder and CEO of Pawtucket, RI-based IT consultancy Envision Technology Advisors. Instead of thinking of themselves as a barrier, IT has to adopt a "policy of innovation," he said.

Knapp shared his thoughts on the consumerization of the enterprise and how it's changing IT.

Is the consumerization of the enterprise a positive or negative, and what's the hardest part to deal with?

Todd Knapp: It really depends on whose point of view you're looking at it from. Philosophically, it's a very good thing.

When BlackBerry first came out, IT professionals said to managers, 'Look at this great device! You can get your email on the road!' And people said, 'I don't want to use this. I don't want to be that connected; I don't like this.' They fought hard. IT was innovating and the users were resisting. Users ended up begrudgingly agreeing to use the technology, and in the end, they loved it. Their perception of IT was that these guys were there to help them. These are the smart guys; these are the innovators.

The challenge now is that our users are the innovators; IT is trying to keep up. So if you're looking from IT's point of view, it creates a negative impression of IT.

Two things are happening as a result of consumerization. One: Our users are getting smarter. Where we used to have to fight to get them to adopt innovative technologies, today they're frustrated if they can't adopt new technologies. That's a good thing. Two: The consumerization of IT puts pressure on organizations to maintain a policy of innovation. It gets easy for IT to rest on their laurels a little bit, but when your user base is screaming for [new technology], it creates an environment that forces innovation all the way through the organization.

For IT, the hardest thing to deal with is the negative impression. No one wants to be the guy who says 'no' all the time. That perception turns IT from being an advocate into a barrier, and that's a bad thing.

How would you describe your approach to the consumerization of the enterprise? Do you ignore it? Are you reactive or proactive?

Knapp: We absolutely embrace it. There's nothing wrong with smart users. A policy of innovation is critical, especially right now when the world is changing so quickly.

Do you support employees using personal mobile devices for work? If so, what do you mean by support?

Knapp: We absolutely support them using their devices on our network. We actually built segments of our network that are specifically for end-user devices, and those segments provide additional security to avoid data leakage problems. If you were to come onto my network, you'd see a wireless network called 'BYOD network.' You can connect to that Wi-Fi network and it's not going to create any security risks for our company, but it's going to empower you to work more efficiently. We also encourage our employees to make requests of IT around which device may or may not be the best one for them, and IT is given free rein to identify any device  in the marketplace.

Does your company have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD)/mobile device policy?

Knapp: Yes. The policies prevent people from transferring data to personal devices, but at the same time the policies encourage the use of personal devices by leveraging the systems that we built to support them. For employees who want to work on company data from their mobile device, that's fine. We use VMware virtual desktops and we'll configure the Horizon client on your mobile device so you can access your corporate desktop without having to transfer data to that device.

Do you let employees use consumer-focused cloud services such as Dropbox? Have you looked into enterprise services?

Knapp: We're using the VMware platform for that and we're using Office 365's SkyDrive platform. But we don't allow people to bring in consumer cloud services. We call that BYOC, which is bring your own cloud, and while we're huge advocates for BYOD, BYOC is the first step in serious data leakage because it's impossible for management to be able to understand what data a user has put on their personal cloud. If that person is ever terminated or leaves the organization, there's no way for us to verify that data has been removed. Instead of saying, 'No, you can't bring your own cloud,' we offer users a couple of different cloud options and we say, 'Here are the choices that you have, pick the one you like most.'

This was first published in November 2013

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