The Connected Employee, Part 1 — Joining the Dots

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been bloodletting in the basement, and the user is winning at this stage of the IT revolution. If ever there was a time to go with the flow, this is it.

New mobile landscape

The smartphone and tablet markets continue to expand — in 2013 there were close to 1.6 billion smartphones globally. At current projections, this will increase to 3 billion by 2017, by which time market for tablets will be 350 million-strong.

While this is going on, smart mobile technology keeps evolving in many different directions — mobile enterprise apps are gaining traction, laptop and tablet form factors are converging, and the market for wearable devices is gaining scale.

BYO everything

Equally the result of low investment in end-user technology, controlling IT policies and consumerism of technology, employees are further bringing their own devices and self-provisioned apps and cloud services to work (Dropbox and Skype being typical examples), to get the job done.

For most workers — especially knowledge workers — their IT setup has become a complex multi-screen environment with several different devices running different operating systems.

For businesses, it’s the proverbial wake-up call, and long-standing definitions of the connected employee are being revisited. Before, the focus fell on connecting selected employees and making sure they’re reachable. Right now it’s about making sure everyone across the board can be productive and efficient wherever they are.

This means acknowledging the complex new BYO computing ecosystem and empowering the entire workforce with the information and tools they want.

Changing with change

Many businesses will turn to platforms to help manage this complex new environment, and look for solution providers with road maps, scale, and credibility.

Many others wish it would all just go away. Traditional IT departments are responding to the challenge by limiting hardware choices to a few supported operating environments, restricting network, enterprise systems and information access, and monitoring behaviour.

But those that get it accept that their first point of contact with employees, customers and partners will increasingly be through mobile channels from now on. They know a well-equipped workforce is more productive than one that isn’t, and they appreciate that a progressive end-user computing environment not only improves productivity but reduces employee stress and improves work-life balance.

In short, they know to embrace change. It’s a simple choice between keeping up with consumers or remaining stuck in a desktop-centric vision of computing that is fully 20 years old.

Leaders in this brave new connected world are moving towards allowingemployees to use any sanctioned device and access applications and data from any location, thereby increasing engagement, ideation and improving productivity.

Businesses that move fast will see a competitive advantage — providing a better customer experience and more efficient, agile working practices for their employees.

If you can’t beat ’em, enable ’em

So what exactly is expected of IT? Grovel.

Just kidding. IT must enable change rather than act as a central command and control operation, or risk becoming irrelevant as users flout restrictions or shun employers that fail to move with the times.

At the same time as helping to build a productive, innovative mobile culture, it must further ensure the brand remains protected with impregnable security and technology policies.

Not so fast

It will not be easy or risk-free by any means.

The consumerisation of IT has created an “experience gap” in the workplace that IT managers must partner with their business counterparts to help overcome.

IT must also tackle business risk and compliance issues arising from a connected workforce, all while the business and technology landscape is increasing in complexity.

Then there are the cost-of-ownership and governance implications, to be figured out with a remuneration policy that aligns with what companies want to get out of mobility.

All in all, it’s going to be a tricky balancing act to marry these interests to those of the employee and executive.

But the many advantages of mobility across a wide range of industries (not to mention its threat of disrupting traditional IT functions) means this must be tackled sooner rather than later — with the help of strategic partners, if need be.

Smart IT departments will support lines of business in their drive to transform business practices by re-looking the platforms and workplace management tools needed to manage the device and app life-cycle in a new multi-operating system, multi-device environment.

They will work on providing better BYOD support, and adopt and integrate social collaboration platforms into corporate workflow. On the fringes of the enterprise,they will employ context-aware collaboration that turns field workers into knowledge workers.

And in all this, they will exercise caution and find balance in their endeavours, proceeding piecemeal at first, and communicating strategic wins.

Note: This blog is the first in a series of three that explores getting the organisation connected with mobile communication and collaboration technologies to improve efficiencies, productivity and innovation;training connected workers on the tools and platforms they’re demanding; and promoting a strategy of social leadership through connected employees.