By Melanie Turek, Industry Director, Frost & Sullivan
One of the biggest topics of discussion in IT circles these days is the so-called “consumerization” of IT. The idea is that unlike in the past, when most people were introduced to new technology at work and then adopted it at home as prices allowed, these days, employees are just as likely to first adopt new technology at home, then bring it into work as needs demand.
We are seeing this trend around devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, that employees buy on their own but use for business purposes; and around applications and services, such as Skype and free conferencing services, which employees use as “work-arounds” to get the capabilities they want, and/or to save the company money on communications and collaboration. So, for instance, while it is not unusual to see employees taking work calls on their personal mobile phones, it is also common for employees to place International calls via Skype, or to host conferences on a free service in an effort to better enable collaboration if their company doesn’t provide it (or if it does, but per-minute costs are closely tracked and charged back to the user’s line of business).
This poses a challenge to IT managers: They can either encourage employees to use such free or personal technology, and hope it all works out OK for the organization; or they can pay for similar services to be available to their employees as needed. While the first option might be appealing, especially in difficult economic times, the old adage is often true: you get what you pay for, and with free applications, the risks are clear. Here are a few of them:
- Security and control: Free applications and services rarely meet the security requirements of most businesses, and they do not include the kind of control mechanisms most IT departments and line of business managers demand. Typically, when consumer services do include such capabilities it’s as part of a “prosumer” offering that costs money—and so, the application or service is no longer free, and has the additional downside of coming from a consumer background, rather than one built specifically for business use.
- Features and capabilities: When it comes to communications and collaboration applications, most consumers aren’t very picky about the capabilities they need. But professional users need professional-grade tools. With conferencing applications, for instance, companies should look for advanced registration capabilities; archiving, editing and recording features; and interactive tools that let you load presentations, take polls and answer questions on the fly, or break out into small-group sessions as needed. Furthermore, it’s important that your conferencing application look professional to customers and business partners.
- Reliability and support: Free services are fine for personal needs—if a call or conference is dropped while you’re talking to your friends and family, you can simply try again. But customer-facing applications require bullet-proof reliability and support; they must work perfectly every time, or users risk not just embarrassment, but also lost business opportunities. Consumer services don’t offer the reliable performance and 24-by-7 support businesses need to maintain a professional image and keep operations running smoothly.
Melanie is a renowned expert in unified communications, collaboration, social networking and content-management technologies in the enterprise. For 15 years, Ms. Turek has worked closely with hundreds of vendors and senior IT executives across a range of industries to track and capture the changes and growth in the fast-moving unified communications market. Melanie writes often on the business value and cultural challenges surrounding real-time communications, collaboration and Voice over IP, and she speaks frequently at leading customer and industry events.