BYOD: The new battleground for CIO value

Diplomacy and compromise cannot win the war for CIO relevancy. IT must embrace innovation and a user-centered approach to technology as the keys to survival.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor
BYOD: The new battleground for CIO value
Image credit: iStockphoto

Today’s business users expect instant access to all work-related services and data from their personal mobile devices, challenging IT to re-think long-held ideas about infrastructure, policies, and governance. Because bring-your-own-device (BYOD) reflects massive growth in the consumerization of IT, it has become the battleground on which Chief Information Officers must demonstrate value and relevancy.

This battle for relevancy cannot be won by compromises and diplomacy alone. No, the war for value demands CIOs who can innovate, adopt new technologies, and fully embrace a user-centered approach to IT management.

Although BYOD aggravates differences between users and IT, the underlying problem is poor communication and lack of trust rather than technology itself. For example, research (PDF) from Accenture highlights misaligned priorities and trust as an issue of critical concern between CIOs and Chief Marketing Officers. According to the study, 45 percent of CIOs report that marketing is at or near the top of their priority list, while 64 percent of CMOs believe that CIOs place marketing IT at the bottom of their priorities. This gap indicates severe lack of communication; the two sides don’t seem to talk.

Steve Mann, CMO at information products supplier, LexisNexis, believes an “Inherent tension” exists between users’ desire to choose their own devices and applications versus IT’s charter to secure the enterprise boundary. Another CMO, Vala Afshar, from networking manufacturer, Enterasys, further explains the tension, “When your tools at home are better than those at work, it causes frustration. Mobility and collaboration are a lifestyle and you cannot expect employees to be chained to their desk.”

Tensions with the Business

Despite requests by users for greater BYOD network access, the CIO must still adhere to his or her corporate mandate. When responding to requests for BYOD, the University of New Hampshire’s CIO, Joanna Young, evaluates whether new “end-user technology will integrate with our systems and not break five other things or kill our OpEx.”

BYOD creates user expectations that personal devices will instantly work in the enterprise just as they do at home. CIO Joanna Young acknowledges that users “become annoyed” when they cannot perform simple activities such as scheduling meetings, accessing SharePoint sites, or interacting with others using their own device. “When IT does not provide this level of access,” she says, “it causes a lot of tension.”

The need for speed. Although BYOD heightens gaps between IT and lines of business, the underlying tensions are not new; sources of conflict include divergent operational metrics, measures, and goals.

Aside from the rise of shadow IT, this divergence has created an entire industry of cloud-based SaaS vendors, which exploit the gap by letting users buy and deploy technology without asking IT. Business users today can purchase powerful equipment and enterprise software easily and at low cost, encouraging independence and offering flexibility.

The University of New Hampshire’s CIO, Joanna Young, recognizes that lines of business desire speed: “Users want to make decisions and do things quickly; IT either tries to slow them down, or cannot meet their expectations, without adding cost. Time to market is a key issue that weaves throughout the relationship between IT and business.”

Mind the Gap

When IT policies collide with business users’ expectations, misalignments of goals and interest occur; a couple of real-life examples:

IT forces senior executive to become data verification clerk. A former employer of Steve Mann periodically required him to verify the security authorizations for hundreds of people that worked on his team. This task required Mann to check every security permission, manually, by “painstakingly going line-by-line, employee-by-employee.” When IT forces senior executives to spend significant time performing lengthy clerical tasks, the situation marginalizes IT and further drives the CIO toward business irrelevancy.

BYOD runs amuck. Joanna Young explains that the University of New Hampshire created a mobile app built for specific platforms that are “the most prevalent on campus.” Based on the advice of their “shadow IT advisor,” some employees purchased different mobile devices without first asking IT. As a result, these employees could not use the official UNH app to access corporate systems and IT was unable to provide the desired level of service without incurring additional overhead.

Innovate and Collaborate

BYOD causes a shift in how business users relate to technology while simultaneously raising their expectations of IT. As a result, BYOD challenges CIOs with organizational issues that go far beyond security concerns and support costs. Innovation, rather than negotiated compromises that leave both IT and business users dissatisfied, is the solution.

Many CIOs own the word “no” as standard response to users. Unfortunately, that attitude creates a negative, self-fulfilling cycle that alienates the business and devalues IT. Instead, CIOs should adopt a positive and helpful mindset, always remembering that IT’s true mandate is serving the business. For this reason, we urge CIOs to rethink their role and embrace a shift from “chief gatekeeper” to Chief Innovation Officer.

Innovation, rather than diplomacy, is the CIO’s secret weapon in the BYOD battle; collaboration and “default to yes” are the new currency of CIO relevancy.


Thank you to Yaacov Cohen for contributing substantially to the ideas in this post (really co-authoring). Yaacov is CEO of harmon.ie (disclosure: a client) and an expert in "delivering aggregated user experience for the mobile enterprise." You can interact with him on Twitter at @yaacovc.

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