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Bring your own gadgets

Bring your own gadgets
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First Published: Sun, Sep 25 2011. 11 30 PM IST

Flexible: More equipment-buying decisions now rest with employees.
Flexible: More equipment-buying decisions now rest with employees.
Updated: Sun, Sep 25 2011. 11 30 PM IST
Throughout the information age, the corporate IT department has stood at the chokepoint of office technology with a firm hand on what equipment and software employees use in the workplace.
They are now in retreat. Employees are bringing in the technology they use at home and demanding the IT department accommodate them. The IT department often complies.
Flexible: More equipment-buying decisions now rest with employees.
Some companies have even surrendered to what is being called the consumerization of IT. At Kraft Foods, the IT department’s involvement in choosing technology for employees is limited to handing out a stipend. Employees use the money to buy whatever laptop they want from Best Buy, Amazon.com or the local Apple Retail Store.
“We heard from people saying, ‘How come I have better equipment at home?’” says Mike Cunningham, chief technology officer for Kraft Foods. “We said, hey, we can address that.”
Encouraging employees to buy their own laptops, or bring their mobile phones and iPads from home, is gaining traction in the workplace. A survey published recently by Forrester Research found that 48% of information workers buy smartphones for work without considering what their IT department supports. By being more flexible, companies are hoping that workers will be more comfortable with their devices and therefore more productive.
“Bring your own device” policies, as they are called, are also shifting the balance of power among electronics makers. Manufacturers good at selling to consumers are increasingly gaining the upper hand, while those focused on bulk corporate sales are slipping.
The phenomenon is upending the corporate market, which has traditionally hinged on electronics makers cultivating tight relationships with IT departments. Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Research in Motion (RIM)—maker of the BlackBerry—have long dominated the workplace, but Apple and its consumer-friendly blockbusters—the iPhone, iPad and MacBook—have made major inroads.
It’s not just electronics. A variety of online services that were originally aimed at consumers are crossing over. Google is hoping that people using its Gmail and Google Docs products will produce a guerrilla movement inside corporations strong enough to displace Microsoft and its Office suite of software.
“You shouldn’t reject things that make employees more productive, and if those things happen to be consumer technologies, so be it,” says Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Corporate IT departments often resist allowing consumer technology on their networks because of security concerns. Adding a hodgepodge of devices and services also complicates their job.
But IT departments are gradually warming to the idea simply because their bosses left them little choice. The IT staff may grieve for their lost power, but they do it. “They're over the denial and anger stage, and now they are in the acceptance and ‘How can we help?’ stage," says Schadler, who co-wrote the book Empowered, which addresses consumer technology in the workplace. “What broke the camel’s back was the iPad, because executives brought it into the company and said ‘Hey, you've got to support this.”
A survey of more than 1,700 information workers earlier this year by Forrester showed how much of the equipment-buying decision rests with employees. Nearly half of the respondents said they bought their work smartphone while 41% said their employer paid; 9% said the cost was shared between the two.
Netflix’s “bring your own device” policy takes into account the blurring of lines between work and personal time.
“As long as they're productive, innovative and engaged, we're happy,” says Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Netflix. Kraft Foods’ “bring your own laptop” policy started a year and a half ago, and now around 800 employees receive a stipend—Kraft declined to say how much—to buy either a Windows or Mac computer. Workers who want laptops that cost more than their stipend must pay for the difference out of their own pockets.
Kraft’s programme is not quite company-wide, however. Executives who handle confidential information, people who use laptops to operate production equipment, and most factory workers are ineligible. “It's a relatively small part of the company,” says Cunningham. “But it addresses the majority of the noise and complaining.”
Letting workers bring their iPhones and iPads to work can also save firms money. In some cases, employees pay for equipment themselves and seek tech help from store staff rather than their company's IT department. “You can basically outsource your IT department to Apple,” says Ben Reitzes, an analyst with Barclays Capital.
©2011/The New York Times
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First Published: Sun, Sep 25 2011. 11 30 PM IST
More Topics: Workplace | Gadgets | Smartphone | iPad | Productivity |