Verne G. Kopytoff on the consumer-driven transformation of corporate IT culture:
Encouraging employees to buy their own laptops, or bring their mobile phones and iPads from home, is gaining traction in the workplace. A survey published on Thursday by Forrester Research found that 48 percent of information workers buy smartphones for work without considering what their I.T. department supports. By being more flexible, companies are hoping that workers will be more comfortable with their devices and therefore more productive.
I’m even seeing IT acquiesce to consumer choice in the insurance industry, which has traditionally been a last (or non-) adopter of new technology. The trend is undeniable. iPhones, iPads, even MacBook Airs are everywhere.
But the story here really isn't “yay, Apple is beating Microsoft.” It’s about economics. The utility function of a consumer is not the same as a corporation. When given the opportunity, employees (consumers) won’t necessarily make the same choices as a large enterprise.
A corporation wants uniformity (read: minimal support costs) and puts enterprise security above individual productivity. Individual employees want technology that reflects their own tastes and job needs, because, believe it or not, employees are all very different—even in the most sterile corporate environments.
When the people who actually use technology are free to choose their technology, they tend to choose things that work—for them. And as Cisco VP Tom Gillis found out, employee morale rises, too:
Gillis noted that employee satisfaction among his team within Cisco skyrocketed when employees were allowed to use their own Macs instead of the company-issued Windows machines, despite the fact that employees had to pay for and service Macs out of their own pockets.
Crazy idea: Maybe salaried adults will be happier and more productive if they’re given the freedom to make decisions for themselves. Maybe, just maybe, a paycheck isn’t the only thing motivating a knowledge worker.
It will really be interesting to see how free-er technology markets distribute PCs, tablets, and smartphones in the coming years as employees begin speaking for themselves instead of being spoken for.