The Home and Office Switch Places

Much has been written lately of the consumerization of technology.  Rapid innovations in technology have had dramatic impacts on the personal lives of individuals.  What hasn’t received as much coverage is the diminishment of technology in the workplace.  It seems hard to remember now, but not long ago, the office was the nexus of technology and gadgets.  If we wind the clock back 20 years, such devices as fax machines, copiers and PC’s had minimal penetration in the home and were nearly ubiquitous in the workplace.  Advancing to the mid-90’s, high-speed internet access became the norm at work while being in its infancy in the home.  Even that most personal of devices, the smartphone, took hold in business first with the introduction of the Blackberry.  It seems quaint now, but 10-20 years ago, if you wanted  to get personal work done that required technology, you went into the office.  It was common then for people to utilize workplace technology to write/print resumes, copy a tax return, fax in a mortgage application or download music.

This entire situation has been flipped on its head in the last 10 years.  The average knowledge worker has access to superior technology in their personal lives than at their workplace.  Hardware is just the starting point.  Well equipped PC’s, with broadband access, wifi, and advanced smartphones are all common devices in the home.  Turning our attention to software, the innovations are just as startling.

Ponder the following questions:

  • Is it easier to procure items through your corporate ERP systems or through Amazon or eBay?
  • Is your corporate email system as convenient and feature rich as gmail?
  • Can you set up a desktop video call or web conference faster through corporate software or via Skype/Webex?
  • Can you find expertise/knowledge to solve problems on your intranet as effectively as you can on Google, Wikipedia or via numerous message boards?
  • Is it easier to procure/install new desktop software at work or through an app store at home?
  • Which is a more effective device, your corporate issue Blackberry or your personal iPhone/Android smartphone?
  • Is Wifi more broadly available at your office or at your home/Starbucks/Panera Bread

If your company is like most current firms, your answers heavily favored personal/home based solutions.  Now, I certainly recognize the additional challenges facing rapid implementation of technology in the workplace.  The enterprise has greater concerns around security, stability, manageability and compliance.  Additionally, the bureaucratic and often factional nature of firms slows down and politicizes decision making cycles.  But it is precisely these corporate hallmarks that are handicapping traditional firms from competing effectively in today’s marketplace.  New upstarts, not impeded by the same concerns for controls, have a marked advantage in implementing innovative consumer based technologies.

Traditional firms that ignore or resist this new trend will be faced with rapidly growing pressures.  First, they will see increasing numbers of grass roots and back door implementations of consumer technologies in the office.  Employees will look to technologies that help them get their job done, even if it means bending the rules.  Second, these firms will have a hard time attracting and retaining elite talent (especially amongst millenials).  Employees are starting to expect these tools as a given in any progressive workplace.  Last, these firms will find themselves losing ground with competitors as customers expect to deal with firms utilizing consumer inspired technologies.

Forward thinking firms would be wise to adopt the following strategy of 3 E’s:

Embrace – Accept these new consumer inspired technologies.  Rather than resisting them or allowing them to come in via the back door, establish policies and standards and promote their use.

Emulate – Develop corporate practices and systems that copy the hallmark properties of these new technologies.  Rapid innovation cycles, collaboration, open communication and bottom-up idea generation should be embedded in the corporate culture.

Encourage – Create an environment where employees are encouraged to suggest the implementation of new consumer devices and software in the workplace.  Your team can be a valuable “R&D” lab, testing and vetting new ideas for the firm.

The following concepts are all “ready for prime time”:

  • Support for iPhones, iPads and Android devices
  • Official programs around “bring your own computer” (BYOC) to work
  • Liberal work from home programs
  • Ubiquitous Wifi connectivity at all office locations
  • Implementation of Social Networking software including chat, profiles, microblogging and message boards
  • Leveraging of different SaaS applications as appropriate to your particular business

All of these ideas can be thoughtfully implemented with appropriate policies and standards, ensuring that they are secure, regulatory compliant and manageable.  Firms heading down this path will leverage the continued advance in consumer technology rather than being victimized by it.

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