Company-issue gadgets are more trouble that they’re worth. It’s time IT departments got out of the way and let users make their own decisions, says silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.
A friend of mine showed me his brand-new work smartphone the other day. When we’d both stopped laughing, he admitted that he wasn’t even going to bother charging the ugly, antiquated brick, and would instead continue to use his own, vastly superior phone.
He’s not the only person I know who keeps a company-issue mobile stuffed in a desk drawer because using it in public is too embarrassing.
As a result of the bureaucracy of IT procurement, there’s a very good chance that if your company gives you a phone or a laptop - don’t even try asking for a tablet - it will be out of date before it even makes it to your desk, and ill-suited to your needs.
For many workers, these office-issue gadgets aren’t useful business tools, but a ball and chain that you’re obliged to drag around.
Workers aren’t grateful for company hardware anymore - often it’s more of a pain than a perk. Hardware innovation is a consumer game now, and business devices are nearly always playing catch-up. This failing is most obvious with smartphones and tablets.
Corporate procurement, with its long lead times and emphasis on getting the best price, is always going to struggle to ensure workers have the next big thing. But equipping your best staff with the wrong tools could really hurt your business.
The days when managers could dangle the offer of a company laptops or phones as a reward to staff are coming to an end, and IT departments and CIOs need to recognise that.
For many workers, laptops and smartphones are no longer unaffordable luxuries, but something they will have at home, often with a higher spec that the ones signed off by the finance director. Many graduates will be astounded to find that when they turn up on their first day in the office, they have better kit than the boss.
Indeed, roles are reversed, and its bosses who are now grateful when staff bring their gadgets to work from home. One in three tablets sold is bought - with their own money - by people who want to use them at work.
Even the idea of having a work device and a home device seems ridiculously old-fashioned. No one wants to carry around lots of different phones - apart from the few who think that a Batman-style utility belt is an attractive fashion statement.
So what about the story of my friend and his new work phone? The company has wasted its money on the handset and the contract for a number that will never be used and managed to make itself look out of touch as well. Equally, my friend will have to use his own handset and pay his own bill - everyone loses out.
And yet, surveys have found that as many as two-thirds of CIOs feel that using personal devices in the workplace is too risky, and that a Canute-like 15 per cent have banned their use altogether. They should simply bow to the inevitable, set the policy but get out of the way.
Do CIOs and IT departments really want the bother of dishing out phones, laptops and soon tablets to a user base that knows at least as much about gadgets as they do? It’s time to step back and hand over these decisions about what to buy - and the budget to do it - to the people who actually use the stuff.