Balancing the consumerisation of IT

Employees are now directly, and indirectly, driving IT purchasing decisions.

For the last couple of years an important shift has been transforming the workplace; the consumerisation of enterprise technology.    

Historically, investments in enterprise tools were made on the basis of technology first, users second. However, having become accustomed to the simplicity and flexibility offered by consumer apps, and the power of smart devices and cloud services, employees now expect more. Very quickly, organisations have realised that dismissing the needs of the user is a fast-track to poor employee adoption and the covert creep of shadow IT. 

This trend is fundamentally good. For too long, security requirements and usability were at odds. Quite simply, infrastructure and investment cycles just couldn’t keep pace with rapidly evolving use cases.   

Arguably, this trend had had the greatest impact on collaboration tools. From familiar UI’s (User Interfaces) and gesture controls, to greater emphasis placed on the social aspects of collaboration, these tools now promise higher adoption rates and greater mobility. This makes them appealing to larger enterprises that need to unify large teams across several locations, and those that want to connect a teams with stakeholders outside of the corporate firewall.    

Yet, while it makes sense to take advantage of the functionality and familiarity of these consumer-style collaboration tools, businesses must be wary of the fundamental difference between consumer services, designed to occupy users in the downtime of their day when they commute or wait in line, with enterprise tools that focus on enabling new levels of productivity. They must also not forget the need to continually balance information security and governance with ease-of-use. 

Security vs. ease of use - the struggle continues

The consumerisation of IT doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that security is dismissed. Instead it means security and governance is deployed in a way that doesn’t impede the user experience. If tools become too complex and restricted by security policies to be usable, workflows become broken and collaboration becomes inefficient as users default to their preferred, riskier alternatives.    

In fact, a 2016 survey of 200 US and UK professional services firms revealed that many industry professionals are sidestepping company-mandated collaboration and file-sharing tools due to poor user experience and functionally. They instead are opting to use consumer tools, both internally with teams and externally with clients.    

One of the greatest CIO challenges that exists today is managing this balance and building a stack of applications that safely meet the needs of today’s use cases. Because the ecosystem of workplace apps is growing exponentially – Slack, Evernote and now Facebook - enterprises need tools that are equally at home integrating to new cloud applications, modern information security solutions such as identity and enterprise mobility management, as well as traditional enterprise systems.

Facebook at work?

Last month, Facebook launched ‘Workplace’, a new collaboration proposition that promises to ‘connect’ all employees within a business - from executives to assistants – leveraging its existing 1.7 billion active users. With the same user interface as Facebook, ‘Workplace’ claims to require ‘zero training’ as the majority of users will already have a login, password and, most importantly, know how to use it on both the web and mobile.    

However, this presents a new challenge for enterprises – and not just a technical or governance one. Many consumer-style collaboration tools, like Facebook, are focused on being a platform for staying up-to-date with updates shared by individuals – in consumer social networks, these could be links to videos, sharing photos, or commenting on the latest news. While certain kinds of status update and link sharing is important in a work context, much more valuable is collaboration that brings together workplace teams, content and documents, and business process workflow, and which is focused on not just organising teams and their work but on giving insights which dramatically improve productivity.    

Indeed, collaboration tools that encourage users to interrupt their day just to stay up-to-date potentially even threaten productivity rather than increase it! While functions are in place to help employees report behaviour they deem inappropriate, CIOs will struggle to keep a handle on the many different types of conversations – private and public – happening day-to-day.

Experience vs. content ownership

Today, most of us need to collaborate not only with our own internal teams but also with a growing network of external partners and clients. This level of collaboration extends beyond the corporate firewall. However, the challenge here is not just one of securing data, it’s also streamlining the complexities in delivering an exceptional client experience.    

People have always used different tools for different job functions, largely dependent on their role or team. However, in recent years this has become a lot more fragmented. The result? A single piece of content may now live in more than one place – a desktop, mobile cloud storage, an enterprise-approved file sync and share app, plus an unapproved one, on email and in a client portal, to name a few. If not integrated properly, collaboration across multiple devices, storage options and tools can become disruptive, hindering the client experience.    

To overcome this, businesses have begun to invest in client-facing technologies that extend the enterprise’s reach beyond the firewall. More than the humble extranet of old, the new crop of collaboration technologies enables real-time collaboration, document management and task tracking across both internal and external stakeholders. Not only does this afford a better client experience, but it helps to create a transparent system of record and audit trail of user and document activity. Something that’s vital to mitigating the threat of fragmentation and data silos.    

Employees are now directly, and indirectly, driving IT purchasing decisions. This is a significant step forward for workplace technologies and, looking forward, the best enterprise collaboration tools will be easy-to-use, contextual, tightly integrated with other enterprise and consumer tools, and mobile. However, businesses must remain wary of a new set of challenges. App fragmentation to productivity-sapping tools all have the chance to creep in and compromise corporate governance.

Stuart Cochran, Chief Technology Officer at Huddle
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa