In less than 18 months tablet computers have become the mainstay within the lunchrooms, meeting rooms and boardrooms of modern corporate enterprises. Dimensional Research recently reported that 72 per cent of surveyed organisations had tablet devices in use, with 41 per cent being used by individuals who had made their own purchases.
However, 51 per cent of organisations reported that they had no clearly articulated strategy for adopting tablet devices. Not since the rise of the PC, have corporates had to deal with such a major technological change in the workplace. Some commentators have coined it a ‘tech-tonic’ shift. In fact, commentators across the globe are opining that the speed of adoption by consumers of the new tablet computers by far outstrips any previous new technology offerings in the last 20 years. It’s exponential and here to stay.
Contemporary corporate enterprises are struggling to integrate and accommodate these devices in the workplace. Today’s information worker (iWorker) expects to use tablets seamlessly for work and play — to mix business and personal data, anywhere, anytime. If today’s CIOs fail to address this indisputable shift, it will inevitably follow that they and their organisations will be left counting the cost. But herein lies a serious problem for today’s CIOs and the IT groups they lead.
In the absence of a clear corporate tablet integration strategy, iWorkers are adopting a plethora of consumer-oriented solutions, such as DropBox, Evernote and Box.net, to enable them to work on their preferred devices. These consumer-oriented solutions are just that; they are not designed to meet the complex needs of today’s modern corporate enterprise.
Consumer-led workarounds leave organisations open to the thorny issues of corporate information security, data integrity and information ownership. The new major challenge for IT groups everywhere is to address this divergence between the needs of the iWorker and the corporate enterprise.
The CIO’s challenge
CIOs have seen a trend with similar hallmarks to this previously in the rise of LAN connected desktops. The response was to lock down the desktop in order to minimise total cost of ownership and security risks. Those strategies won’t work this time due to the inherent bring-your-own (BYO) nature of the new devices.
Chances are many CIOs, myself included, started their IT career in the late ’80s or early ’90s; they entered the corporate IT environment at the time of massive growth in PCs connected to local area networks (LANs). They remember clearly the great rise of the PC; they saw the increased security threat, increased dispersal of corporate knowledge and associated integration challenges.
And they clearly understood the total cost of ownership rationale that provided them with an investment argument that was defensible at CEO and board level. In order to reduce the total cost of ownership and make the job of the IT group manageable, the IT group developed one golden rule for the PC era: Lock it down. In response to the rise of the PC, the IT group created corporate desktop standards through which they controlled hardware, software, configurations and connections.
If CIOs react to today’s challenges in the way they did to the last great disruption, they will fail. Taking that approach will result in the IT group more than ever frustrating the strategic aspirations of the iWorkers, executives and the organisations they work for. No good can come of determined antagonism of the iWorker by IT services. A way for IT groups to allow and enable BYOD is required.
My story: From CIO to Premier
My career journey has taken me from an IT ‘restrainer’ CIO in the ’90s to an IT ‘challenger’ power user in the ’00s. During the mid-’90s I held the position of CIO in a major health and hospital public sector organisation. I faced two great struggles in this role. The first was constantly trying to convince a cash constrained public sector organisation it should spend money on IT infrastructure and systems rather than on machines that, for example, save a premature baby’s life. It’s a tough sell.
The second was trying to deliver IT services to a highly demanding customer base made up of often tech savvy clinicians, each of whom wanted something slightly different. The only response possible in those days was to lock down any desktop or laptop provided to those power users so that they were ‘provided with’ the corporate standards, appropriate security and systems use. The response from the clinicians was largely an unhappy resignation to the realisation that corporate IT would not meet their needs on the wards and in health service delivery.
Fast forward 12 years and my career had taken me from CIO to every CIO’s worst nightmare — a power user who knows how the IT group works.
As Premier of Australia’s southern-most state, Tasmania, I deliberately set out to flout the IT standards, which had been languishing somewhat in the ’90s lockdown head space for too long. I found myself challenging the same standards I had so often been responsible for setting in the past. Thumbing my nose at those who said I couldn’t, I demanded an iMac and a MacBook Pro for my office and was first in the queue to get the new iPhone and iPad. As soon as I received my iPad I began downloading apps and trying to use it for work as well as play.
A few weeks after the iPad’s initial release, I found myself on the type of tour that politicians do of a hospital. It was one of the hospitals I used to provide IT services to as CIO. I noticed more often than not those same doctors from my past carrying their new iPad under their arm. It dawned on me. The iPad and other tablets, some now approaching the $250 mark, would completely change the balance of power between the IT group and the user.
All of a sudden the user could bring in a device they bought at the local department store and want it to work — at work. They had completely removed the CIO and corporate IT standards from the equation. I also realised that the tactics I used back in the ’90s as CIO to restrain or thwart these power users and maintain control would fail.
Already the doctors and I were ‘cutting and pasting’ corporate documents into Cloud-based applications such as Evernote and DropBox. And therein lies the problem for CIOs: Users will download consumer Cloud-based apps in the absence of genuine integration to the corporate back end. They will find their own workarounds. It is ultimately unsatisfactory for the user, who only has copies of documents in the Cloud rather than an ‘authoritative’ version of the corporate documents. And it is unsatisfactory for the workplace as the integrity and security of corporate knowledge is threatened. CIO strategies and systems must adapt to this new ecosystem or the core purpose of IT services groups will be unachievable.
The writing on the wall
I have heard one CEO of a major corporation observe that iWorkers across his organisation are using iPads like paper — anywhere, anytime. “It’s a real problem and I constantly worry about what corporate information is walking out the door,” he said. The Economist calls it the ‘War of the IT Worlds’ and corporate information custodians are scrambling for solutions to deal with data integrity, security and cost of ownership.
An additional challenge to meeting the needs of individual iWorkers is that most employees operate within collaborative teams where information is exchanged and modified rapidly. The exchange capacity needs to be enabled on their tablet computers. iWorkers will be extremely unsympathetic if their workplace IT systems are unable to keep up with the pace of information exchange within the modern corporate environment. CIOs and the IT group must therefore be creative within their organisation’s existing business practices and infrastructure to deal with these many challenges.
Time and resources will not allow the CIO to re-invent the back end to provide secure access to consumer devices. IT corporate planning typically extends many years into the future and the spectacular uptake of the tablet computer was unforeseen by most in the IT industry.
Modern corporate enterprises must find ways to accommodate this new technology without compromising their existing corporate infrastructure, systems and business rules. Solutions must complement rather than replace existing corporate IT infrastructure, and deliver on the divergent needs of the iWorker and the enterprise.
Shaken, not stirred
Tablets are moving from consumer device to enterprise tool. It is a shift that shows signs of exponential growth and it is here to stay. CIOs must embrace the trend and respond with a new approach. The power iWorkers — both in position and capability — have reclaimed the power to determine which device they use for business and recreation. It is not only about the devices, but the software. CIO strategies must find a way to prevent compromise to corporate knowledge and data, developing strategies that integrate new tablet technologies into the corporate landscape.
Strategies that are characterised by control and device lock down will fail. CIO strategies must integrate new consumer devices rapidly, provide access to corporate knowledge securely, and allow the user flexibility and ownership on their own device.
David Bartlett was Premier of Tasmania from 2008 to 2011 and is the state’s former minister for innovation, science and technology.
His extensive career in information technology and telecommunications includes senior IT management positions in the education and health sectors and CIO for the Department of Health and Human Services. As Premier, he switched on the first non-Telstra owned optic fibre backbone in Tasmania. He is senior policy advisor on science and innovation at the University of Tasmania and runs a digital futures consulting firm.
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