Apple is expected to sell $10 billion worth of iPads and $9 billion worth of Macs to the corporate market in 2012, according to Forrester Research . When it comes to business technology, a paradigm shift is taking place right before our eyes.
In the past, the best software and devices in use in the enterprise eventually made their way to consumers. Today that trend is reversing: employees, who use social media, tablets, and smartphones at home, are increasingly wanting to bring them into the workplace ¾ a trend which Forrester dubbed ‘take an Apple to work.’
This trend is not just limited to Apple and devices. The worlds of business and consumer applications are merging, resulting in a new class of general and vertical apps that are as social as they are powerful. These new applications are increasingly easy to use, collaborative, and based in the cloud.
While IT managers may cringe each time they hear “can you help me connect my iPad to the company server,” here are ten reasons why businesses should embrace the consumerization of IT.
1. Improved collaboration
When information is in the cloud, it’s readily visible and accessible to everyone involved: employees, managers, clients, and contractors. There’s no issue trying to send files that are too big for email, or painfully reconciling multiple versions of a project that were saved and edited on individual desktops. When projects are moved to the cloud, workers can share and collaborate with far less friction than when data and documents are trapped in an on-premise desktop solution.
2. Real-time communication
In their personal lives, people are becoming more and more accustomed to web-based communication channels outside of email. When people are used to FaceTime, chat, and instant messaging at home, the act of sending an email to a vendor, or even sending a fax to your lawyer, seems like an artifact from a different, and far slower, era. If I can chat with my friends on Facebook, why can’t I interact with co-workers on our CRM system? Why I can’t I have a secure instant message session with my lawyer?
The socialization of enterprise applications gives workers, clients, colleagues, and customers, and vendors better tools to communicate in real time. These tighter communication loops should ultimately drive key performance goals for any business, including employee productivity, operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction.
3. Greater accessibility
While traditional enterprise systems trap data in a single location, the cloud makes applications and business data available to more users on more devices in more locations. For employees, this can be a game changer, as the information they need is right at their fingertips – whether they’re at a client location, on route to a meeting, at home, or on vacation.
4. End-user buy-inUltimately the success of any technology initiative hinges on the ability to convince employees to actually use the software, device, or process. When employees clamor to bring their own tools into the workplace, there’s no risk that a new tool will sit idly by. Throwing employees in front of a stodgy application is hardly a recipe for success. Rather, end users are more likely to use those tools that evoke the same look and feel of their friendly social networks and consumer apps.
5. Shorter end-user learning curve
A savvy workforce, being familiar with their own favorite tools, can dive right into technology that leverages consumer elements in the corporate environment. Training costs go down, and employees can be productive with their new tools right out of the gate.
Cloud-based applications shift the financial costs from the upfront capital expense of purchasing software licenses to an ongoing operating expense. When calculating the total cost of ownership, the benefits of cloud-based tools go beyond the cost of subscription vs. software seat to include: lower management costs, lower provisioning and upgrade hassles, and lower hardware costs. A 2009 report from Forrester Research concluded that Google Apps costs less than 1/3 as much as on-premise email for equipping 15,000 employees with email.
7. More experimentation possible
All too often companies become conditioned to operate within the framework of their software as opposed to having their software operate within the framework of their business needs. Why? Because by the time a company realizes their traditional software isn’t working for them, they’ve already sunk thousands of dollars and vast amounts of time into the investment. In this case, the company’s expectations quickly shift from ‘the perfect fit’ to ‘make it fit.’
This isn’t the case with web-based applications. There’s minimal risk to evaluating a new cloud-based product, even trying it out for several months, and moving on. The low cost of entry gives companies the unprecedented luxury to run with what works and drop what doesn’t
With traditional enterprise software, roll-out and deployment can take weeks, if not months. Yet with a cloud-based app, you can be up and running in a few hours. By dramatically reducing deployment time, cloud apps enable companies to respond to changing needs on the fly. For example, if a group of workers suddenly need new tools, cloud apps put those tools in the hands of workers without delay. The result is a more agile company.
While data is often the chief concern holding businesses back from the cloud, web-hosted applications can actually increase data security, particularly for those small to mid-sized companies who don’t have proper in-house technical expertise or resources like a dedicated, lockable server room. In these cases, off-premise storage removes the company’s sensitive data from on-premise risks, such as access by cleaning staff, employee error, even physical threats like earthquake and fire.
Consider for a moment who is behind the consumerization of IT. While Apple may benefit greatly as iPads and iPhones cross over to the enterprise, it’s the employee and not Apple who is pushing to use these devices for work. At the heart of this trend is the simple idea that employees know which tools can make their work day easier and, hopefully, happier.
The key question to ask is: if employees are asking to use their own tools so they can be more productive in the office or catch up on work after hours, is that such a scary prospect?
About the Author
Jack Newton is CEO and co-founder of Clio , a Vancouver-based company that offers web-based practice management software for solo practitioners and small-to-medium sized law firms.
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