All I want for Christmas is BYOD

Win8 Touchscreen Ultrabook for the wife...check. Android 4.x tablets for the kids...check. But for me? All I want for Christmas is BYOD.

Last week was my birthday, and it caused me to realize no matter how much money I wanted to spend, I couldn't get what I really wanted. And this year in particular, this has been a tough pill to swallow. Finally, some new tablets are out that, unlike the iPad, I could actually be productive with. Windows RT looks sexy, and with new devices like the Dell XPS 10 and the Surface tablet, I am itching to get my hands on one. At the same time, Google's now complete line of tablets with the robust new features of Jelly Bean look sick...there simply hasn't ever been a better time to be looking at tablets. And with touchscreen ultrabooks and convertibles starting to come down in price and new operating systems now out that can use them, I want a new convertible.

No doubt, that with the continued rapid growth of technology and gadgets, Christmas 2012 is in many ways a geek's dream. And it's not just geeks anymore; it's hard to find anyone these days not excited about the latest technology. For businesses, consumerization has been a startling trend. Once viewed as lazy employees seeking to spend company time messing with their personal devices, smart business leaders now realize that an intelligent access policy is not only a significant factor in attracting and retaining top talent, it is also imperative to enable businesses to remain competitive as the large and monolithic piles of bureaucratic processes and policies are getting plowed out of the way by newer and more agile 'grass-roots' processes.

All businesses today are facing radical change in almost every imaginable aspect, on one hand driven by changes in technology...but much more importantly what we are experiencing today is driven by a massive change in global culture. Technology has always progressed. But as anyone who has been around IT for long knows, the hardest challenge with deploying new technology in the past was always about getting people to adopt it. For years, businesses invested millions in new applications focused on creating agility and productivity and in most cases users resisted adopting new technologies. Then came the iPhone and web 2.0, which turned this problem on its head. Overnight, IT went from not being able to get users to adopt new corporate systems and processes to the opposite, not being able to stop the consumerization trend that has been plowing forward with the momentum of Juggernaut.

Don't get me wrong, consumerization hasn't actually made it easier to get users to adopt traditional client-server era systems, but rather it showed that it was in fact possible to make very powerful systems that offered massive improvements in productivity, significant operational streamlining and cost savings, and get users to adopt them rapidly and proactively. The infamous "IT doesn't matter" conundrum had finally found a real solution that would allow IT to operate as a service and provide the flexibility and empowerment desperately needed by the business. The key to this solution, as so eloquently presented by Geoffrey Moore here, is to move businesses from systems of record toward systems of engagement.

While the term ITaaS has been bandied about for a number of years, finally 2013 will truly make it possible for enterprise IT organizations to begin to manage IT for business rather than strangling business possibilities with complex, burdensome, and limiting IT operational models. This year, with the introduction of hypervisor network virtualization, VMware and Microsoft are now prepared to deliver all-inclusive and fully automated private clouds with robust hybrid capabilities that can bring the economics and capabilities of cloud services in a centralized model that can be monitored and controlled by IT. Innovative offerings like Dell's Active System bring converged, pre-integrated IT offerings to a new level, making it easier than ever for IT to stay focused on driving business growth and innovation. And perhaps most importantly, we are entering the era of the platform, where business users can translate antiquated processes into highly effective dynamic and collaborative workflows through self-service and community engagement models.

This is the key impact of BYOD and its parent trend consumerization: business growth and innovation. For years, businesses have sought to digitize the "command and control" model of operations which has proven to be an effective model for a time, yet in today's fast-paced and rapidly changing world it is very apparent that the rigid inflexibility imposed by this model can leave businesses locked in the past.

The irony here is that, long ago, many businesses recognized the need for continuous wide-scale process improvement and forced employees through some type of six sigma/total-quality management/7-step problem solving type training where misguided programs sought to teach legions of employees to improve company processes by using cumbersome and complicated methods. And despite years of investment into these types of initiatives, most large businesses are still burdened with masses of antiquated, rigid, and inflexible processes which represent millions of dollars invested and hundreds of thousands of man-hours...and all of it, 100% of it...needs to be replaced.

Command and control may have been good for businesses in the past, but today as our society becomes so personalized that individuals can get their own personal, supercomputer-generated health profiles, every one of a business' employees' need to be empowered with flexible processes that enable adaptation to the employees' personal working style, adjustment based on unique needs of a particular region or customer, and the ability for end users from the top to the bottom of the org structure to empower the next-generation customer experience.

Despite years of efforts towards corporate process improvement of programs that just didn't work, today there is a break in the lining and the light of a real working solution not only for mere process improvement but beyond to a real solution to provide continuous process and business-model innovation. New types of user interfaces, highly customizable web systems, enterprise gamification and social media can now deliver computer-assisted workflows that are replacing the business processes of the past, which were often held in a binder or just as bad in a word doc or even a Wiki page. If you encounter a process that involves looking up instructions for the process, then it's time for an overhaul. We are entering an era of platforms that provide the foundational tools to turn any and all processes into computer-assisted workflows that can be adapted to each worker's own preferences and that maintain business intelligence and analytics throughout creating new possibilities to identify, prioritize and implement continuous process improvement.

This should provide a sigh of relief to battle-weary employees and executives, both of whom have struggled with the challenge of rigid and inflexible business processes in the face of new greenfield competitors that are able to start from the ground-up with the latest cloud-enabled business models that are simply much more agile and low-overhead than established businesses still struggling with their legacy systems, organizational structures and business models.

With the solutions becoming available on the market today there is more opportunity for massive ROI and productivity improvement than any time I can remember in IT, and on top of it there is the additional incentive that businesses that do not embrace these trends rapidly will be left in the dust. Yet despite all of the amazing growth we have seen in technology in the past years, there is one absolutely critical element that most are completely overlooking, and that is the human element.

Today, while the code has been cracked and we can see that it is possible to create highly effective systems of engagement, most organizations still have as hard of a time as ever delivering the types of solutions that drive proactive and voluntary participation and engagement. And in my humble opinion, this is due to the fact that despite every study in the history of management science clearly and decisively showing that empowered, engaged and involved workers are substantially more effective and productive, yet the command and control, whip-cracking mentality has been dominant in the now-dying era of business.

There is simply no way to build effective social systems that drive engagement without empowered employees that have a sense of shared purpose with their employer. Without this, companies will have to force employee engagement, and forced engagement is a great way to get the bare minimum done. To create a robust social system where employees can engage productively, the system has to promote voluntary participation and proactive engagement, which, again, will only happen with empowered employees with a true sense of shared purpose (sorry to be redundant but I cannot stress this point enough).

I could write volumes of how much dissatisfaction I have as a consumer dealing with businesses that provide services to me both in my personal and professional dealings, and in almost every case I have become dissatisfied as a consumer, both myself and the company representative I was dealing with recognized that both of us were trapped by a rigid, top-down bureaucratic policy that no executive at the company would want yet everyone is powerless to fix. From phone calls to customer service to visits to local retail stores or any of the ways I interact with businesses as a consumer, processes across society are fundamentally broken, and the only way to fix the problem is by empowering employees.

While it is true that any worker could be pushed to implement newer applications, no amount of brute force can create an effective system of engagement. Every system and user interface that people enjoy and that drive improvement and productivity do so with an elegance that showcases just how intimately the designer knew the user of that application. And with millions of processes for millions of roles needing to be re-written from manuals and documentation into dynamic systems, it is time for executives to realize that success in the cloud era can only be achieved through a fundamental increase in human empowerment. Those that take a different path will simply be buying time to their demise.

And that brings me back to my main point about BYOD. The true potential for BYOD and consumerization is business growth and innovation. The reason why consumerization has grown and not shrunk is because it has in fact been predominantly used by employees to get around broken and antiquated processes to drive business productivity and employee engagement. And today more than ever and increasingly as we proceed into the cloud era, every employee will be engaged in helping to improve processes and work to deliver increasingly customized experience for customers. BYOD and consumerization empower employees to find the systems and tools that work best for them, and while many BYOD systems and tools will stay with that user, many best practices from newly empowered and engaged employees working in social communities can be shared across teams and integrated into a continuous process improvement lifecycle and it is in this view where it becomes clear that BYOD can provide what is essentially a widespread rapid prototyping lab for business process innovation. When implemented properly, it can enable thousands of employees to experiment with new productivity methods and report impact back into business-intelligence-enabled social communities where the 1-2 punch of BI and crowdsourcing can use agile methods throughout the workforce to design best-in-class systems for process innovation that no designer or team of designers working in a silo could ever accomplish.

So today I challenge all business leaders everywhere to look at your companies' statements of shared purpose and vision and examine how deeply employees truly feel engaged, empowered, aligned and enabled to participate in accomplishing shared goals. In my experience supporting hundreds of businesses and organizations across the country, most have recognized that they need to try to create a sense of shared purpose, yet most employees still feel un-empowered and hostage to bureaucracy as in most cases they actually are and actually do not have the opportunity to effectively change poor processes or effectively share their ideas and creativity with employers. This is a problem that yields so much loss of human potential and organizational empowerment and frankly limits growth across the entire economy.

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