No CIO wants to be the person who says ‘no’ to productivity, especially when the request for iPads comes from the company’s senior executives. But when it comes to mobile devices entering the enterprise, CIOs face the ultimate challenge, how to best service their employees while keeping a lid on costs and security.
The CEO wants an iPad.
So do the directors on the board, although they'd prefer an Android tablet. The developers are asking to bring their own laptops to work because they're more powerful than those provided by the company. The salespeople are bugging you for smartphones because they want to access to e-mail and the CRM system while on the road, not to mention Facebook and Angry Birds. And if they don't get the model they want, you can bet they're going to remove the SIM cards from the company-issued phones and stick them in their own phones as soon as they leave the office.
Meanwhile, the CFO just called from Belgium, where he's attending a conference on managing operational risk. His personal tablet, which he's been using to edit company documents with an application downloaded from an online 'app' store, against your advice, has just ridden off in a taxi somewhere in Brussels. And he doesn't speak French. Or Dutch.
Welcome to the new era of mobility. Everybody in the organisation is excited about the promise of greater freedom, convenience and productivity afforded by a new generation of powerful mobile devices, but for CIOs that promise seems to mostly involve a lot of headaches and sleepless nights.
Mobile devices designed primarily for mainstream consumers, such as tablets and smartphones, are entering enterprises at an unprecedented rate. Boards of directors are having board papers delivered on their iPads. Sales teams are being equipped with smartphones that enable them to conduct business on the road. In other cases traditionally expensive mobile devices like ruggedised notebooks are being replaced by less costly tablets for use in remote locations and in warehouses.
In a bid to reduce capital expenditure costs, some organisations are even adopting a flexible attitude toward hardware and allowing employees to bring their own devices to the office, what's known as the 'BYO model'. In many other organisations however, these mobile devices are being used by workers, whether the CIO wants them to or not.
No matter how mobile devices are entering your enterprise, the question facing CIOs is: Are the productivity benefits worth the device management and control issues they create for the IT department?
Andrew Rowsell-Jones, vice-president and research director in Gartner's CIO and Executive Leadership Research Team, is sceptical about the benefits, at least for the moment.
"Organisations are expecting great things from these devices, but right now what we're seeing is a lot of experimentation," he says. "Undoubtedly the consumer mobile space is currently in a great state of flux. People think iPads and smartphones are marvellous things, but when you ask about the business benefits, they scratch their head and find it hard to answer.
"Can CIOs prove they contribute to increased sales? Can CIOs prove they're actually cheaper or more effective than more conventional mobile devices? It's an area where the business case has yet to be established for many organisations."
Rowsell-Jones says that the best response a CIO can have today is to adopt a 'visionary' approach, that is, to deal with problems of today while keeping one eye fixed firmly on the future, when the devices eventually mature and revolutionise our work habits.
"Most internal IT organisations are slow moving, controlled and bureaucratic, so they don't adapt well to this new app store-driven environment we're entering," Rowsell-Jones says. "But the very things CIOs are most worried about are the same problems the device makers are working hard to solve. It won't be long before these data and device management issues go away."
Right now, Rowsell-Jones says, many organisations consider consumer mobile devices something to be locked down and controlled and that is true, but only up to a point. For CIOs, the challenge is to balance the risk the devices represent with their tremendous potential for innovation.
"There is a strong innovation component to these devices," Rowsell-Jones says. "They are so useful and so efficiently designed to be easy to use that even workers at the coalface can put together new apps and come up with clever ways to use them that can drive cost efficiency and improve effectiveness.
"If you put too many controls on these devices, the reality is people will bring them into the organisation anyway. If that happens, CIOs run the much greater risk of failing to seize new opportunities. As the CIO, you don't want to end up as the person who just runs the infrastructure or, worse, who is responsible for demoralising their own IT organisation. In fact, that is a much greater risk, the risk of the CIO becoming irrelevant."
At least until data loss and other security issues are fully resolved, Rowsell-Jones advises CIOs to follow a strategy of 'managed diversity'. This means breaking up employees up into different categories and supporting their use accordingly.
"Establish a way to segment your users," he says. "The top category, like knowledge workers and the sales force, deserve the time and effort it takes to get the devices and applications working effectively, because the benefits are worth it.
"At the other end of the scale, there will be workers to whom you say, 'I'll tolerate you bringing your tablet to the office, but I'm not going to connect you to anything beyond the email system'."