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04 April 2015

 

 

Opening Doors to Employee Driven Innovation

By Bevil Wooding

These are extraordinary times for gadget lovers the world over. Between new Android smartphones and tablets; Apple’s latest iPad mini; Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating systems for desktops, phones and tablet PCs; and a seemingly endless march of Internet-enabled devices, personal computing is witnessing an unprecedented revolution. But consumers are not the only ones benefitting from this watershed moment in consumer electronics’ already remarkable history. The consumer technology developments of the past year are also fundamentally transforming the business landscape. With the line between consumer and corporate worlds quickly fading, more employees are bringing their own mobile phones, tablets and even laptops to work. The implication of all this for corporate IT departments is profound: take advantage or risk jeopardizing business competitiveness, profitability and survivability.

The consumerization of IT is the introduction into the enterprise, planned and otherwise, of devices that were originally designed or intended as consumer technologies. In many organizations the executive suite is driving this transition, insisting that their IT departments accommodate their often easier to use gadgets and devices. The trend is ushering businesses into a new era of technology utilization where neither technology, nor its implementation as a business tool, is initiated by corporate IT departments.  Now, with Internet access widely available and computing devices increasingly affordable and more user-friendly, it is the rank and file who are often the first to experiment and understand how new technology can transform a company.

Managing this requires a major shift in how the IT function is perceived in the modern organization.  As technology developments drive transformational change, one thing is certain - the responsibility of IT is no longer simply to support the organisation technically.  Firms must transition from operationally-focused IT units to technology-strategy focused groups, capable of  working within the organisation to drive business outcomes. 

Of course IT departments, with good reason, may wish to hold off on allowing devices and software into organizations when they haven't been properly tested and where they cannot be properly supported. These real concerns, however, will not stop the tide.  Corporate users are demanding them more and more and the use of consumer-centric technology devices and applications in the enterprise will only increase.

To effectively adapt to the dynamic changes in the technology landscape, IT need to embrace employee demands, negotiate and manage internal and external partnerships, manage projects and corporate services, keep abreast of technological developments and provide advice that relevantly supports business objectives.  IT units have little choice but to evolve into the key enabler of business outcomes and business growth. This is no small task for the 21st century IT manager. The good news is that the solution lies in the more flexible and cost effective technologies now available.

Consumer technologies can be used to help drive corporate innovation and productivity. With consumers bringing in the latest tech-gadgets and software, organizations must be flexible and skillful in their response. Today’s user-centric technologies empower employees and provide new opportunities to collaborate, share views and exchange information in ways that were either too expensive or outright impossible a few short years ago.

More than ever, attracting and retaining the IT talent is as much a priority for IT managers as developing technical skills. IT leaders need to work with human resources to identify skills gaps and find the right personnel to fill those gaps. An organization’s capacity to realize this potential will be limited only by its ability to create a facilitating environment, that values to the creative capacity inherent in people and encourages new approaches to improving how business is conducted. 

For the organisations nimble enough to take advantage, consumer technology can be deployed strategically in the workplace to make workers more productive, more efficient and, importantly, more innovative. At the same time, organizations must carefully manage the rearisks that come with all the benefits. Security, cost and support fears are legitimate, but the bigger risk is stifling the innovation that new technology can unleash.

Side Bar: Three to Watch

#1 It’s A Mobile World

The smartphone is essentially a pocketable PC and it is also the one computing device people are most likely take with them everywhere. Employees are increasingly expecting to access and use mobile tools on the job – just as they do in their everyday lives. Several studies predict that smartphones will be the largest segment of the PC market in the not too distant future. The impact of smartphones in the corporate environment will be increasingly felt as Internet speeds on mobile devices improves and more applications are written to take advantage of mobile access to meet local needs and solve local challenges

#2 All About the Social

Social media is another consumer trend that is increasingly crossing into the corporate realm. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, wikis and blogs are bursting into progressive workplaces with a near irresistible force. The flood of unstructured data coming into the corporate environments from social media creates creating new challenges for organizations. At the same time it also sparks employee-driven innovation, creates new channels for engaging customers and partners, and provides entirely new opportunities to expanding markets and opportunities.

#3 Tablet Takeover

For a computing category that barely existed three years ago, the tablet market has experienced explosive growth. The popularity of the devices is poised to grow even further with the introduction of new hybrid machines that combine the instant-on, ease of use touch experience with the productivity boost of detachable keyboards and cloud computing. It is quite likely that tablets may soon take their place alongside PCs and smartphones as standard-issue IT equipment.

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Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Office of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based international non-profit. He is also Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-technology non-profit (www.brightpathfoundation.org).  Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding or at: facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at technologymatters@brightpathfoundation.org