Operational Excellence with Technology


When I was in college, back in the middle ages, party invitations frequently came with the notation BYOB, "bring your own booze."

Now, more and more job offers come with the notation BYOD, "bring your own device."

Another FLA (four letter acronym) being used to describe this change is CoIT, or the Consumerism of IT. One variant I like is Cooperative IT.

This was one of the recurring themes at this last year's Defrag conference.

Oddly, this isn't a new phenomenon. Back in the late 1970's, when the Apple II was just becoming popular, people would sneak on into work to run the spreadsheet software Visicalc, often putting the relatively low cost computers on expense reports (although even in the days of 3 martini lunches how you could put $2,000 of computer on an expense report baffles me).

Then IT figured out having all these rouge computers in the office, often hooked up to the mainframe system with odd connections, were a support and security nightmare, so they clamped down. Only company issued devices can be used for work!

I've actually met people traveling who have two laptop computers, two cell phones, pretty much two of everything you might travel with, all in an oversized wheeled computer bag.

Generally, most employees' personal devices are more state of the art than the company issued ones. Interested employees often are reading about what is the latest and greatest and can decide to buy that device when it is released. IT is usually constrained to a list of approved vendors, who are considered safe, and must do a formal evaluation before making a purchase decision. Sadly, that sometimes means the technology is obsolete before it is even deployed to the employees.

And often the employees know how to use their own devices better than the company issued ones. It's their computer or phone after all. So their productivity is lower with the company issued phone or computer.

But IT was/is in total control, so security and support is lower right? Not always.

The good news is more companies are realizing that employees are capable of making good technology decisions, they are doing it for themselves all the time. So more and more of the time, instead of forbidding "foreign" phones or computers, companies are allowing them, sometimes even encouraging them.

The role of IT becomes less of the prophets on high bringing the Windows XP tablets down from the mountain right after the iPad gets introduced, and more the Geek Squad for the company, offering pre-purchase advice and on-going support. In fact Geek Squad got its start offering tech support back up to business IT groups (at Defrag Robert Stephens mentioned his best marketing tool in the early days were Carnival Cruise brochures with a card that read "When was the last time you took a vacation" sent to server administrators). Geek Squad still does corporate IT support, a fact often overlooked by their Best Buy connection.

But the CoIT revolution isn't stopping at hardware, more and more employees are bringing new software options to work. These options are often web applications that can replace more expensive traditional corporate software. Google Docs ends up replacing Microsoft Office, offering enough of the functionality to satisfy the user at a fraction of the cost, and adding a collaboration bonus that is harder to implement in a traditional IT environment. There are a huge number of web applications, many of them with freemium business models that let you get started and prove the benefits before incurring any costs. Your employees will find them for you.

Another great example of how consumer IT has impacted business is YouTube. Most people think of YouTube as the place to go to watch dogs talk or cute baby videos. But many people are finding YouTube is a great "how to" resource. One manufacturer I used to represent, Moen Faucet, has a whole series of how to fix your faucet videos that reduce the number of warranty claims.

Hosting video on your own web server is expensive. Video files are large and web server storage is often limited. And if many people view your video you may exceed your bandwidth on your server, incurring additional charges.

But you can upload that video to YouTube where you don't have to pay for storage or bandwidth. An added benefit of video on YouTube is people may find your video that wouldn't find it normally. YouTube is the #2 most used search engine behind its parent company Google.

Creating a YouTube video can be done with simple equipment. I wrote an article many years ago that suggested you could create videos with only a $1-2,000 investment in equipment. Now many smart phones can take HD video and upload it directly to YouTube, making the cost of producing and distributing video virtually nothing.

The Apple II with Visicalc may have started the current trend to CoIT. It is definitely catching on. Embrace the new uses your employees will come up with on their own. Allow them to use their own devices (computer or smart phone) while working for you. Even support them with a staff member or a Geek Squad contract. If you really want to adopt BYOD, you might even consider giving employees an allowance to spend on those devices. It will pay off in the long run.

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