Consumerization a double-edged sword for SMBs

Embracing consumerization can help small and midsize businesses better compete with larger companies, but hidden costs could outweigh benefits.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Consumerization can be a boon for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), such as saving on expenses by allowing staff to use their own hardware devices. But observers note that there may be other hidden costs to bear.

IT consumerization has made major impacts on the corporate realm, one of which is that companies will increasingly deploy devices and technologies that are easy to use and readily accepted by individuals, said Venu Reddy, vice president of AMI Singapore.

The growing trend of bring-your-own device (BYOD) has seen the number of devices entering the workplace spike and has forced IT vendors to create or open up applications to a wider range of devices, he added in an e-mail.

Therefore, as IT gets increasingly consumerized, SMBs are increasingly able to access and implement tools that were until recently only within the reach of big multinational corporations (MNCs), he said. "[All this] means that more SMBs are able to "punch above their size and weight and compete with larger MNCs."

Ian Song, research manager for client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific, pointed out that the benefits for Asian SMBs are multifold. For instance, it will not need to invest in procuring mobile devices for its workers. In Asia, it is traditionally not common practice for Asian companies, especially cost-conscious ones, to provide end-user staff with mobile devices even though today more work gets done on mobile gadgets, he said in a phone interview.

At the same time, allowing staff to use their own devices will bring about user goodwill and since these are devices they are comfortable and familiar with using, it leads to improved day-to-day efficiency, he noted.

Singapore company iTwin is one that has enjoyed such benefits.

The homegrown business issues a computer to each of its 18 employees, but all other devices used such as tablets and handsets are personal items, said Kal Takru, co-founder and COO of iTwin. Noting that most of the staff had smartphones and about a quarter had tablets, he added: "I don't think we could standardize all computer devices even if we wanted to, given that we have a mix of iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 users".

iTwin's employees can all access their work e-mails on their mobile gadgets, Takru said. "The set up is trivial, and in a place like Singapore, which has good mobile coverage, the productivity-enhancement is significant. And it does not cost the company anything in terms of equipment or support."

Hidden costs involved
IDC's Song pointed out that device support is double-edged sword for SMBs. While they do not have to worry about supporting hardware, they may not have the resources to make sure the software is compatible with every device and implement complex management models to achieve the same level of efficiency with BYOD, he pointed out.

In contrast, MNCs are likely to already have the resources as well as the necessary desktop and device management infrastructure already in place, and are actually be better positioned to benefit, he emphasized. For example, technologies such as desktop virtualization will enable MNCs to allow user-owned devices, regardless of the underlying hardware, into the workplace more effectively.

"If an MNC has the desire to leverage BYOD and embrace consumerization, they have more resources to make it work better [than a SMB]," Song said.

Reddy pointed out organizational size does not matter because a key factor in enjoying the benefits is how open an company is to embracing the impacts of IT consumerization. Larger MNCs may be unwilling to relax their regulations and give up their control over staff, he pointed out.

He also noted that the most effective way of leveraging IT consumerization was to look at it as a business process with "an open mind". This means key questions regarding data security and user profile management will have to be addressed.

Song agreed that security was the "biggest concern" regarding IT consumerization's impact on the enterprise, due to the "human factor". For one, users are generally less vigilant about protection with their own devices, which could easily compromise data and data security, he pointed out.

iTwin's Takru said with the momentum of IT consumerization, companies need to "recognize the reality of [the trend] and work with it". He said for iTwin, embracing wave of IT consumerization has brought "only benefits so far". "As a SMB, we definitely intend to leverage the trend, and don't see much downside from it."

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