By Robert Dumigan.

Consumerisation of IT, the emergence of technology first in the consumer market, then spreading to enterprise and government organizations is a very real and widely understood concept that has been around now for well over a decade. Similar to the boiling frog fable, consumerisation of IT and its impact on organisations has slowly and gradually increased to the point that it is difficult to look at any area of our work environment and not see its impact.

Put simply, employees are increasingly selecting devices, technologies and tools as consumers and bringing them into the workplace. This is a complete paradigm shift from the ‘90s when enterprise IT would select the technology and tools, and maintain centralised visibility and control over what technology employees used and how. The drivers are many, and over the most recent decade include BYOD, mobility, cloud applications, social media and the desire for a “consumer-like” user experience.

Whilst the impact has been positive in areas of productivity, efficiency, reduction of costs and time to deployment, there are undeniable challenges. The major challenge being the erosion of visibility and control of IT and the problems this presents in terms of compliance and data protection.

In terms of internal communications, the strongest driver by far is the expectation employees have that the efficient, intuitive and social communications experience they enjoy with consumer applications should be mirrored in how they consume and publish content in the workplace. Just one of many examples of this is how ubiquitous messaging services such as WhatsApp and Viber have become in the enterprise. Favoured by employees because they are familiar and intuitive, and by enterprises because they help to drive productivity and efficiency.

Image of mobile phone background

Not all organisations are comfortable with the use of these messaging services however. In health organisations for example, the sharing of confidential patient information without the permission of the patient via WhatsApp, is being noted as an increasingly prevalent problem. Whilst patient data privacy laws vary across the world, and security of data is a noted concern generally, the greater concern is that in the absence of reliable audit logs. For example, detailed reports and confirmation of deleted messages is an issue where hospitals can be put at significant legal risk.

Consumerisation of IT has also slowly but surely been making the traditional Intranet redundant with Intranet adoption steadily decreasing as employees instead turn to consumer applications. This causes a real problem then for organisations. Instead of having visibility and control of internal communications via a centralised Intranet, employees are now using a multitude of different tools over which the organisation has limited visibility and zero control. If the Intranet does not support an intuitive, familiar and social user experience, employees will use their social media platform of choice to connect and communicate with their colleagues. If the Intranet does not support capturing feedback from employees via surveys and polls, managers have many different cloud based survey tools to choose from. If the Intranet does not support spontaneous peer to peer recognition, then employees will recognise their colleagues on a consumer social network – potentially inadvertently revealing confidential information.

This fragmentation of communication channels present an existential challenge to the enterprise in effective communication with employees, and aligning employees with the purpose and goals of the organisation. But what can be done? Referring back to the example of increasing WhatsApp usage amongst medical professionals, I would like to continue on this theme and suggest that there are two approaches organisations can take. They can either (1) treat the symptom or (2) address the underlying cause.

Treating the symptom might involve creating and enforcing a set of policies and procedures around the use of external communication technologies and tools in an effort to encourage employees to use the corporate tools. Enforcement of policy to alter usage behaviour is a complicated technical challenge, as cloud based applications are accessed outside of the network perimeter and are invisible to IT. Moreover, does the organisation really want to take an approach that is highly likely to disengage employees, impact morale negatively, and remove all of those consumerisation of IT benefits we previously discussed; namely productivity, efficiency and cost reduction?

We believe organisations should instead address the underlying cause. If employees are provided with a communications and collaboration experience that matches their user experience in the consumer world, they are far more likely to adopt it long term. If Intranets evolve from vanilla sources of top-down, one-directional communication, to being a rich and engaging bi-directional multimedia, social experience, then employees are far more likely to use them. In terms of internal communications, organisations should recognise that their employees are turning to consumer technologies out of a desire to connect with colleagues, to be more social, to feel more connected to communities, to give more feedback and overall to feel more connected to the organisation. Providing employees with the tools they need to achieve these things is a no brainer. The tools are out there and the business case is compelling!

The Digital Communication Landscape: Getting It Right