ORLANDO, Fla. -- Many of the IT pros at a conference at Walt Disney World this week are wearing tracking devices on their wrists.
These sensor-based rubber bracelets serve as hotel room keys, credit cards and Disney park passes. In exchange, Disney collects data from the devices. It's a win-win, as long as the wearers don't mind that Mickey Mouse knows exactly where they are at any given time.
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And these days, convenience and personalization typically trump security and privacy concerns. That's why employees choose consumer tablets over weighty business-grade laptops and store files in the cloud instead of the C drive.
IT can either fight the trend or provide technology in a way that offers the flexibility and usability that end users have become accustomed to, analysts said here at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013.
If we continue down this route, IT effectively turns into firefighters ... solving problems and being very reactive, while the business users drive things forward.
IT must follow end users' lead, and not the other way around, said Vlad Rak, vice president of enterprise architecture for Disney, during a session on the company's IT transformation efforts.
"One of the biggest mistakes I made many times before I realized it was thinking bottom up instead of top down and building systems that way," Rak said. "I believed that if we build it, they will come, and that is a major flaw in perspective."
The movement toward flexible IT
End-user computing is the fastest-moving part of IT, with many different platform options, and IT has to be open to deploying the latest devices, said Stephen Kleynhans, a Gartner analyst who presented a session on user productivity.
"Our recommendation had been that companies are better off using a single vendor for PCs," Kleynhans said. Now, "you need to be able to swap in products from different vendors. You need to accept some diversity in the [end-user computing] model because of BYOD [bring your own device]."
Indeed, consumer technology is the largest growing market. By 2020, new device categories such as mobile phones, tablets and ultra-mobile PCs will represent over 80% of endpoint spending, and more than half of that spending will be attributed to tablets, according to Gartner.
Most companies are still focused on costs and PC-centric management techniques, however, viewing technology as corporate-owned and controlled.
"If we continue down this route, IT effectively turns into firefighters ... solving problems and being very reactive, while the business users drive things forward," Kleynhans said.
IT can become facilitators instead, by integrating popular cloud services in a secure but easy-to-use way.
Convenience and flexibility are why a construction company, whose CIO attended the conference and sported a Disney tracking device, moved away from Microsoft Exchange and onto Google Apps for email and productivity software. The CIO, who requested anonymity, tested Microsoft Office 365, but Google's price tag and reputation for innovation trumped Microsoft, he said.
The company still uses Office, but end users have become more familiar with Google's cloud-based productivity suite, and in time, that will be their primary tool, he said.
Keeping users productive through 2018
The ability to access data from multiple devices using cloud-based tools such as Google Apps will only grow in importance as end users rely on tablets and smartphones to work from anywhere. IT can support that level of mobility without compromising security.
With virtual desktops, for instance, IT can create a desktop environment that can be picked up and moved around without much regard for the underlying physical infrastructure, Gartner's Kleynhans said.
"Start making use of virtual desktop tools to extend current devices as you move into new desktop management models," he said.
Part of the goal is to become endpoint-independent, Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering said. Instead of protecting devices, IT should authenticate users and protect networks with network access controls. There should be a way to interrogate devices, however, to determine the trust level and how much access to data should be granted, Fiering said.
Also, IT policies must be updated to cover new and evolving use cases, she added. Have end users sign a remote-wipe policy and make plans for how to retrieve data when employees leave their jobs.