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February 2, 2012

Consumerisation ‘a distraction’ for CIOs

A new report suggests that the fears amongst senior managers surrounding the consumerisation of the workplace have been overblown.

By Vinod

The Economist’s Intelligence Unit has released a report ‘Great expectations or misplaced hopes? Perceptions of business technology in the 21st century’ and suggests that the much vaunted generational gap between Gen-Y’s consumerisation needs and the older generation’s supposed technological deficiencies are mostly a myth.

Consumerisation in particular, is not as big a concern for businesses as previously thought.

The myth has arisen due to the widespread adoption of consumer technologies in the workplace, and many CIOs and senior managers have worried about a potential disruptive technology effect within the business.

This has also fuelled concerns that employee expectations of enterprise technology are rising beyond the reality of what it can deliver, creating generational ‘expectation gaps’.

The research found that, while 60% of respondents agreed that there was a technology gap, between the organisation and employees (which may be getting worse), 51% of the respondents still trusted senior management to be more knowledgeable about technology than lower level employees – this included ‘Generation Y’ – the audience that is supposedly causing the expectation gap.

The EIU surveyed 508 senior people in large and small companies across EMEA, in 20 different industries, including 25% from IT industries. HP sponsored the research.

The research included interviews with CIOs from major companies such as John Lewis’ IT director, Paul Coby, BP Alternative Energy CIO Julian Gray and Jane Scott from Baker Hughes.

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Denis McCauley, Director of Global Technology research at EIU described the focus on consumerisation as a ‘distraction’.

"[CIOs] have bigger challenges, such as delivering on technology-enabled innovation, and employees growing technology savvy should be more of a help in this endeavour than a hindrance," he said.

While companies with tech-savvy senior management were 20% more profitable, the majority of respondents, 73%, did not believe that the technology knowledge gap was causing any serious problems to their businesses.

He added that while younger employees are better with newer devices and social media, senior staff are still looked to for leadership about implementing technology in a business context, and from this perspective, CIOs are getting the job done.

The EIU’s research stated that 84% of technology investments aimed at delivering greater efficiency succeed as planned, and that much of the fear of big projects spinning out of control is borne out of a few multi-million pound failures in the public sector that draw the media’s attention.

Delivering on projects is seen as far more important, and the pressure on CIOs is coming from greater expectations placed on their departments – 45% of respondents said that they expected company innovation to come from IT.

Unlike previous generations, the heads of companies have far more IT knowledge, and the ‘ivory tower’ mentality to IT departments and their project builds has all but evapourated – they are now expected to define their priorities and budgets the same as any other part of the business.

Mark Bramwell, CIO of charity the Wellcome Trust – the UK’s largest non-governmental investor in Biomedical research, describes the end of the ‘separateness’ of IT in business.

"IT’s priorities now need to be totally business defined, same as any other department. It has that same duty of care and diligence," he said.

To put it simply, IT has become a victim of its own success. While most IT departments were streamlined following the tech/telecoms crash of the early 2000s, there is ever increasing pressure to cut costs, while still providing the company’s overall innovation – at even greater speeds than ever before.

McCauley used the example of BP, whereby a project that would’ve taken around 2 years to complete 5 years ago is now expected to be done in three weeks, due to a combination of company expectations, greater resources and tools on offer – and therefore pressure.

As McCauley puts it "a CIO is only as good as his last project."

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