IT Management: IT is not the enemy

When it comes to the Bring Your Own Device movement, IT isn’t necessarily the enemy.

Romi Mahajan

One of the most prevalent undercurrents of the “Consumerization of IT” phenomenon is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. This has garnered vast attention and become a tipping point for IT strategy when it comes to managing independent (and often mobile) devices.

Put simply, BYOD describes the desire any organizations’ employees have as free consumers to use devices of their own choosing in the work environment. The trend of BYOD has come about as a result of the conjoined forces of employees who are increasingly tech-savvy, and the desire corporations have to empower those employees. Modern enterprises also need to truly know their customers and demonstrate forward-thinking attitudes toward technology. Add in a healthy dose of, “It’s the right thing to do,” and there you have it: BYOD is here to stay.

During the course of several panel discussions on this trend held five years ago (before it was christened BYOD), I pitted BYOD fans against BYOD haters. As you might expect, fiery debates ensued. Freedom was pitted against command and control, enablement against lockdown, my time against company time, and so on. 

I would always side with the folks who favored BYOD—not only because I believe in choice, but because I thought the trend was inevitable and necessary. As long as there were available jobs, those who were subject to lockdown would simply find an employer with a more liberal or flexible policy toward personal technology.

There were always valid arguments on the side of those opposed to the BYOD movement, most often centered on the massive disruption created by the lack of clear and enforced standards. The debate still rages five years later. The terms have changed and the conversation is far more nuanced. There’s also five years’ worth of real data to look at versus theoretics. 

Blame game

What hasn’t changed, though, is that the “blame IT” game seems to be an immutable, time-independent crutch upon which both sides of the argument rest their case. IT is cast as the bad guy in both its roles as consumer-choice hater and business emasculator. If not for IT, BYOD would represent a massive boost for freedom and productivity.

The blame game is incredibly commonplace in most organizations. IT often bears the brunt of this blame. As in most other cases, though, this technology-focused ire is misplaced. If anything, IT is the most enabling and empowering aspect of any company. This is true even within the context of BYOD.

This argument ranges from the cultural to the practical. Culturally, IT is one of the most innovative departments within any organization. IT professionals are tinkerers. They learn by doing and by testing. Innovation comes out of this process. In my experience, those in IT are the first to bring cool devices into work. They often expose others to these devices and get them hooked. 

Practically, IT staff members deal with more customers on a daily basis than almost anyone except sales. The difference is that their customers are internal. Through this level of contact, they get to learn of trends and gather frontline evidence of the shifting preferences of consumers, both as people and as employees. 

The second cultural point is that IT professionals are not inherently command-and-control types. In fact, internal IT culture is typically open, cooperative and empowering. IT does have to occasionally follow the bidding of non-IT executives, which is perhaps why IT employees seem at times to be a controlling force. For instance, many IT managers and CIOs tell me the desire for consolidation and narrowing parameters for acceptable devices comes as a result of forces not internal to IT, but connected to cost-management and risk-compliance.  

Many organizations enforce their own desire for homogeneity by not allowing employees to expense devices and service contracts outside their prescribed list of accepted technology. This is a finance-driven decision, not an IT decision. In other words, don’t blame the messenger.

From a practical standpoint, IT professionals are the ones that make BYOD work. Very few of the rest of us are sufficiently skilled in technology and systems management to be able to achieve even a decent level of productivity without active help from our IT partners. Flexible and dynamic IT organizations make BYOD possible. If you don’t believe me, try to diversify the devices within your organization without the help and support of IT.

As we conduct business in a world in which we take being always on, always mobile and always device-agnostic for granted, we sometimes forget this veritable revolution in how we do our jobs is enabled by IT. It’s almost inconceivable to consider effectively doing your job without your devices being able to connect to networks and corporate systems. 

There’s an argument that says BYOD was forced upon IT. You could say that IT gave up the right to control only after the people stormed the gates. That might be true in some old-style organizations, but my experience strongly suggests that IT has been a fantastic partner in making BYOD happen. From both a cultural and practical standpoint, the IT organization empowers far more than it detracts. BYOD is a crystal-clear example of this.

Individuals have choice and they’re increasingly vocal about their desire to exercise their rights. Too often IT is cast as the foil to this freedom. If you want a powerful and productive BYOD experience for your company, tear down the wall and embrace the IT organization’s ability to make it happen.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.