Just as CIOs are coming round to the idea of workers bringing their own devices into the workplace, they now face a new problem - bring your own apps.
TechRepublic recently demonstrated how employees are increasingly sneaking their own apps onto the corporate network, introducing a new management challenge for the CIO.
How can IT leaders turn the flood of employee-installed software for the benefit of the business? Here is the best-practice advice of five IT experts.
1. Concentrate on policy to unlock new opportunities
Alvaro Arenas, professor of information systems at the IE Business School in Madrid, says businesses must see an opportunity in the increasing trend of people using their own apps for work.
“They need to evaluate the issues properly and then open channels to help individuals bring new ideas to the enterprise,” he says. “Your workers will know more about new apps than your IT team. You need a process to show how apps can work in the business.”
Arenas was formerly senior research scientist at the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK. His experiences from a research and practical basis lead him to conclude that governance will be crucial to taking advantage of the opportunities associated with bring your own apps.
“Don’t lock technology down,” he says. “Have a clear policy that says any new apps should be submitted to the organisation for potential use. Make sure there’s a timeframe for acceptance and an outcome.”
2. Time changes carefully
“We tend to be a fairly conservative organisation,” says Bill Limond, CIO at the City of London. “We’ve been around for 1,000 years, so we’re used to change, and taking things quite slowly.”
Limond puts talk of the consumer transformation, and its affect on information flows, into context through a sense of knowledge management at the City. The organisation’s oldest documents date back to 1067 and a charter from King William I that granted residents their rights following the Battle of Hastings.
But the City is also keen to accept change when the time is right. Limond recently led a trial of Apple iPads in the organisation at an executive level and says the authority is keen to think about how tablet technology could be used across the wider organisation. The impact of apps will be crucial.
“There’s a lot of talk about social media and consumer applications,” he says. “To keep pace with the activity of our public customers, we have to get on Twitter and Facebook, and track social activity. Conversations are taking place about your service externally, so you have to give your workers the means to respond.”
3. Speak to vendors and get innovative
One way of making the most of consumerisation is to speak to vendors and to try and give employees more access to the kind of innovative software they use at home.
Norfolk County Council is three and half years into a five-year managed services contract with BT. The council was aware of the challenges associated with consumerisation and the demands from staff for access to a broader suite of application types.
BT helped introduce the council to Google and the IT provider’s cloud-based apps platform for businesses. Kurt Frary, ICT architecture manager at Norfolk County Council, and Google developed the required functionality and the software has now been rolled out to 130 schools in Norfolk, which use the software as a flexible alternative to virtual learning environment technology.
“We’ve worked directly with Google to create innovation,” says Frary, who says teachers can use apps, such as Google Sites, to develop lesson plans. Governor-specific sites have been created to provide a secure network for the sharing of information. “It’s the first step towards promoting a new type of learning that takes advantage of consumer apps,” says Frary.
4. Listen to young people but also value experience
Denis McCauley, director of global technology research at the Economist Intelligence Unit, says the facts are straightforward enough: consumers are now bringing their own devices into the workplace.
The ability to use such devices in association with the cloud means individuals can draw on their own apps to manipulate information.
“This combination is fuelling rising expectations of technology, which in turn are moving beyond the delivery capability of existing enterprise systems,” he says. CIOs, however, should not panic.
Many IT experts suggest the business has much to learn from digital natives. While that might be true, McCauley is eager to propose an alternative argument. “Generation Y might know about apps but they know less about good technology business practices,” he says.
“It is a myth that older generations do not know more. The best ideas often come from experienced people. Dealing with change is nothing to do with age, it’s about your comfort in wanting to deal with new types of technology.”
5. Think digital by default
Peter Bole, CIO at Kent County Council, is not losing any sleep over the perceived threat of employees bringing their own apps to the workplace. While some IT leaders are concerned by the potential threat of consumer-led change, Bole believes the digital transformation presents tremendous opportunities.
“Being a CIO has never been more exciting,” he says, reflecting on the fast pace of change in business IT. “Technology is now moving out of the back office and into something that’s the point of access to information from various types of device and applications.”
IT leaders, says Bole, must take up consumerisation and think carefully about how their organisation can become digital by default. In the case of his organisation, he believes key individuals can exploit the new social apps to help drive improvements in public service.
“If you have a social-networking presence, you have to think about how you engage,” says Bole. “If you want a debate, it’s sensible to think socially. The political side of public service is all about democratic engagement and there’s a lot of potential for the use of social and consumer technologies.”