Technology Autonomy Boosts Profits, Productivity

By William Atkinson

Many IT and business executives say their company’s revenues and profits would increase by an average of about 25 percent if employees were given the freedom to choose their own devices and applications, according to a just-released report by Blue Coat Systems.

The report, “Security Empowers Business: Unlock the Power of a Protected Enterprise,” is based on a survey of 1,910 IT executives and business executives from Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. Half of the respondents are IT executives and half are business executives.

The Blue Coat report notes that, as the speed and functionality of different technologies rapidly improve, and their costs similarly decline, organizations’ ways of working are changing substantially. One way this phenomenon is manifesting itself in the enterprise is in the form of “technology autonomy”—the independence that employees and individual business departments seek in order to make their own choices about the technologies they use to perform their work.

Employees are increasingly demanding the freedom to use their own devices and mobile apps at the office, which is causing a disruption of IT. “Users want the autonomy to choose their own devices, particularly mobile devices, believing that this will provide them with more efficiency and productivity,” says Sasi Murthy, senior director of product marketing for Blue Coat Systems. “They also want flexibility with the applications that they can use, even going as far as some cloud-based storage applications.”

Over the years, however, many employees and departments have viewed IT departments as resistant to such autonomy, with some labeling their IT department as “The Department of No.” According to the results of the Blue Coat survey, though, this resistance appears to be steadily decreasing. The report notes that “such IT recalcitrance is fading fast. CIOs and other senior IT leaders in most organizations are now convinced that according greater freedom to business units to select and acquire the devices and applications of their choice will enhance business performance.”

The key survey results include:

– More than eight in 10 of executives believe that technology autonomy is critical if their businesses are to grow and become more efficient.

– Fifty-four percent of executives believe their revenues would increase and 50 percent believe their profits would increase, by an average of about 25 percent, if employees were accorded the freedom they desire to choose their own devices and applications. Only 35 percent believe there would be no change in revenues and profits.

– The majority also agree that the benefits of technology autonomy would well outweigh the potential risks, provided that enterprises take security, compliance and cost requirements into account.

– The recent flexibility that IT departments have been offering related to technology autonomy is borne out by the fact that only four percent of business unit managers now believe IT merits the reputation as the “Department of No.” Along the same lines, pluralities of business heads and board members say that “IT is a genuine partner in the business.”

– However, half of the respondents think that IT policies slow the business down. They say that restrictive IT policies hamper their organization’s ability to innovate, improve customer service, and boost overall revenue and profitability.

So, while there is a sense that IT has become more flexible, there is also a belief that additional flexibility is needed. “These days, there is a shift going on at the C-level in organizations to help continue this trend,” says Murthy.

– IT management respondents broadly concur that IT should retain a major voice in decisions relating to mobile device provision, application selection, managing access to data, and accessing cloud-based services. Business management respondents believe there should be more collaboration about such decisions.

Of course, all of this raises the fundamental question: If IT allows more technology autonomy, how will the additional risk exposures be handled? “IT is very concerned about this,” says Murthy. “There is acknowledgement among respondents that at-will consumption is already occurring, so the ‘cat is already out of the bag.’ For example, it is a huge concern for IT that users are storing data outside of the IT network.” As a result, there must be appropriate ways to manage these security risks. According to Murthy, one method is to be selective about what type of technology autonomy IT allows, such as limiting it to specific users, specific applications, and specific types of data.

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