IT Departments Hopelessly Behind iWorkers on Smart Devices

Last Updated Jul 13, 2011 2:38 PM EDT

In the face of an overwhelming trend, a smart company finds a way to embrace it. According to a new study from IDC and Unisys, though, suggests that IT departments are struggling to keep up with the use of personal smart devices -- smartphones and tablets -- in the workplace. So far, the consumerization trend is burying the departments.

The fondness that many consumers hold for smartphones is enormous. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, 35 percent of American adults own and love smartphones. And those smartphones are a main source of Internet access for a quarter of their owners.

With numbers like that, expecting people to leave their smartphones -- and tablets, for that matter -- at home is unrealistic. But the perceptions of IT departments and actual employees who own smart devices are significantly different. The growth in the number of people using personal devices for access to corporate applications is astounding, as the graph below shows (click any of the graphs to enlarge):


It's not to say that desktops and laptops become unimportant. Still, the number of consumer devices has become too large to be ignored. At first glance, and in IDC's incomplete analysis, it seems that IT departments don't understand the extent to which the trend has already taken hold, as the following graph shows:


IDC jumps to the conclusion that "IT underestimated the number of information workers using consumer devices for work by nearly 50%." But there's a problem, because IDC is misinterpreting and misrepresenting the results. Remember that the iworkers results came from a survey of people who already use smart mobile devices, whether for business or work.

IDC would only be right in its conclusion if everyone in companies owned smart devices and if 69 percent of them used the devices for work. But that clearly isn't the case. In fact, IDC doesn't address what percentage of all corporate workers actually own smart devices.

According to the Pew survey, there are groups that skew more heavily to smartphone ownership, such as the following:
  • 59 percent of adults in households making $75,000 a year or more
  • 48 percent of those with a college degree
  • 58 percent of those between 25 and 34 years of age
  • 44 percent of African-Americans and Latinos
Say for a moment that half of all corporate workers have such devices. Suddenly, the IT numbers and the iworker numbers agree. That doesn't mean that IT departments really get the urgency. A big majority of them have no plans within the next year to develop or modify existing applications to work with smart mobile devices:


IT departments do have some legitimate concerns, such as security and lack of resources. But there's another factor at work. Even though they see the devices, IT departments don't seem to get the urgency, and misunderstand how the devices are coming in. Here's how IT departments think that the devices get purchased and brought into their companies, and how the workers themselves say they got the devices:


One reason there's a gap between workers and IT is technology adoption curves:


Many employees are quick to try new toys. IT departments as a whole, though, are slow and conservative, because they have to make sure that new gizmos actually work with existing systems and do what they're supposed to do.

But that is almost irrelevant. The problem for companies is that workers are rushing far ahead of where IT can go. Without more resources for IT departments, true adoption of smart mobile technology is still probably years off.

Related: Image: morgueFile user arrayexception, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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