IT policies out of touch with mobile workforce: survey

laptop in a meetingIT policies are increasingly out of synch with the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise and the way people want to use them, according to Cisco’s second annual Connected World Report.

But it’s going to have to play catch up if it wants to increase employee satisfaction, according to Joel Conover, senior manager of Borderless Network Architecture at .

According to the company’s research, 80 per cent of IT staff said their company has a policy around bringing in external PCs, phones and the like. But nearly half of surveyed felt that IT didn’t have a policy on acceptable use of such devices or they didn’t know if one exists.

“There’s definitely a disconnect in how users and IT see acceptable use,” Conover said.

Unsurprisingly, almost two thirds of users surveyed believe IT should “loosen up” and allow more access to social media in the workplace, particularly when such tools are necessary or valuable in the line of business, but also as recognition of shifting lines in the idea of work/life balance.

Of the two out of five employees willing to break company IT policies, 41 per cent said they do so because they need access to programs and applications that are verboten as per IT. Other top reasons for breaking include forgetfulness, having only one computer for work and personal usage, and – at 20 per cent – “because I can,” the belief or feeling that there aren’t consequences for breaking policy.

So is a policy that is not understood, respected or enforced a policy? Conover suggested it’s time to find a new balance that meets the needs of all parties involved.  “You need to evaluate your policies and make sure they work for the users, or else they’ll just break them,” he said.

The most-restricted applications for end users are online games at 44 per cent, but following close behind that are social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube at 41 per cent. Twitter and blogging tools are blocked by more than 30 per cent of businesses.

There’s also a bit of a disconnect in how IT and end users see their relationships with the other. Half of IT respondents believe that end users view them as strategic to the business with open, regular communications. Meanwhile, about 25 per cent of end users said their IT department is not respected. And Conover said that may get better before it gets worse, especially considering that in Japan, one of the earliest wide adopters of many mobile and social networking technologies, more than half of respondents give the IT department the thumbs down.

Conover urged businesses to have the conversation about things like mobile access and devices and social media on “multiple role-type levels” rather than having blanket policies. After all, when it comes to access to mobile devices and social media tools, the business needs of sales and marketing teams for such tools may be significantly different than the needs of accounting, HR or other business users.

The evidence is anecdotal, but Conover said for Cisco, social media campaigns have become its number two driver of registrations for Web-based training and other events, up from the fifth or sixth driver in the not-so-distant past, and lagging only behind the direct marketing e-mail blast in terms of converting visitors.

Conover’s challenge to partners – find a way to make some of the end user issues noted by the survey: flexibility, work/life balance and device independence, and make them germane to the IT conversation.

“Just as IT needs to understand the changing needs of its user base, partners can take it to a level that helps them understand what it means to their business, how they can increase their users’ satisfaction while also meeting the business’ needs,” he said.

Looking out a few years, Conover said the trend is only accelerating, especially as enter into the workforce and into more senior roles in the workforce. The younger generation will drive an agenda of valuing flexibility over pay in some instances, and their constantly-connected upbringing is shaping what they expect from an employer in terms of an IT environment. “Thou shalt not” is not going to work very well here.

“They’re interested in how they can interact, they constantly talk about reaching the customer, having the pulse of the industry,” Conover said. “These trends are only going to continue to bubble to the top.”

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