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As consumer tech sweeps enterprise, IT staff fight for control

James Niccolai | March 6, 2012
The spread of consumer technologies at work has put many IT departments on the back foot, but a conference in San Francisco this week is looking at ways IT managers can take back control and turn the chaos to their advantage.

Ben E Keith's sales increased by US$33 million last year despite a lousy economic environment. "I firmly believe it's due to having that extra functionality in the salesman's hands," Fleming said.

It went with a sturdier tablet than an iPad. "I don't know that the iPad is rugged enough for a beer salesman's environment if it gets dropped," he said, but "we're talking about it."

But it's not just mobile devices that are changing how IT leaders need to think. Social networking began as a consumer trend but has changed how employees communicate with each other, and how companies interact with the outside world.

Clinical research company Quintiles turned to social networking in a big way to find new employees, and also to recruit and track participants for its trials.

"What was the number one website accessed by our employees in the past few years? Facebook," said Joe Donnici, vice president of Quintile's core IT division. "And that's ok, though we have to verify they're not misusing it."

Alcatel-Lucent, Cemex and Burberry were also credited with aggressive social media strategies. Burberry has 11 million "fans" on Facebook, and some analysts attribute its 22 percent jump in revenue last quarter to that social outreach, Hinchcliffe said.

Encouraging employees to surf Facebook at work will require an attitude shift at some companies. "This is one of the cultural issues we have to work with if we're going to capitalize on opportunity," he said.

 And Hinchcliffe allowed that IT managers can sometimes say no, for reasons of security, device management and all the other challenges consumer technologies present. "We've been doing this for 10 years, sometimes we know what's best," he said.

A few of his tips for navigating consumer tech in the workplace: lay down clear and simple rules of engagement for employees; enable self-service IT; and don't get locked into technology decisions (such as Android vs. iPhone) that can't be reversed later.



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