How IT can make peace with consumer productivity

by ​Julia Pickar

The headlines blare: “59 Best Productivity Apps!” “20 Great Productivity Apps for Android, iOS and the Web.” Then there’s the more subtle: “The Best Apps for People With Too Much to Do.”

These articles are wildly popular. Time-strapped people hoping to ‘hack’ their work processes click, read… and download. This doesn’t thrill the IT department. Tech folks have no objection to employees wanting to be more productive, but when each individual mingles dozens of outside devices, tools, and platforms with the corporate network, it can be chaotic.

Showered with productivity and collaboration tools

People love discovering clever, useful applications. If it makes their job easier, good luck getting them not to use it. Here are some of the most widely used, consumer-driven applications.

  • Dropbox

    This is cloud-based storage and file synchronization that gives you access to your files from any personal computer or device. People love this because documents are no longer stored on multiple computers. It’s also a great way to instantly share documents, pictures, or videos with anyone else.

  • Google Drive

    This is also remote storage of documents that (with companion apps Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets) lets you simultaneously co-edit a document with numerous other people. There is also chat and note sharing from within a document.

  • Evernote

    This app is built to capture ideas. It lets you jot down notes, capture images, record meetings, mark up PDFs. Its mastery is storing your ideas in any form, and letting you retrieve them from anywhere.

  • Skype

    This is video conferencing from any device connected to the Internet. It doesn’t have to be video, many people use the VoIP (voice over IP) service to make cheap long distance calls, leave voice and video messages, and share their screen.

  • LinkedIn

    This is the number one professional networking site on the web. It is used to develop all kinds of relationships from finding jobs to job candidates to sales leads to interacting with industry forums. LinkedIn functions for personal career growth as well as often being deeply integrated into corporate functions.

For each of the applications mentioned above – and hundreds of others as well — IT is concerned about everything from information silos (processes that are not streamlined across departments, thereby cutting off collaboration) to security breaches on sensitive corporate information.

But trying to fend off the onslaught of consumer productivity applications is futile. Here are some important guidelines your IT department can consider when balancing this tricky equation:

Get educated on the popular applications

IT organizations must understand those applications that are capturing the imagination of their employees. What function are those apps fulfilling? It is only then they can assess the security, reliability, ease of use and integration into the existing infrastructure. Don’t guess what people are using, ask them.

Coordinate cross-functional groups

It’s important to understand how different departments are using popular applications. To streamline processes, you can’t assume that everyone is using LinkedIn or Google Drive the same way. Gathering a cross-functional working group across departments and functions will give a much better picture of how important it is to integrate certain applications over others.

Explore integration tools

Time for some introspection. How easy is it to fold outside apps onto the network? What about streamlining them across teams and departments? Social networks for example, are crucial business tools for market research. But if they aren’t connected to marketing, CRM and other business-critical systems, valuable insights might not be shared with everyone. Integration platforms are worth investigating. They are helping pull in unstructured data from social networks and other databases and made available on the corporate network.

Mobile, mobile, mobile

Most employees use one smart phone for work and play: their own. The vast majority of companies have made both policy and software changes because of this. Should IT have an inventory of apps running on mobile devices? Should there be a blacklist? It’s worth investigating Mobile Application Management (MAM) tools that help IT support consumer applications while maintaining enterprise security, through authentication, access policy and enforcement, encryption, monitoring and other features.

Managing a network requires gatekeeping, facilitating the common language and workflow within the organization, and of course an eye on security. Fortunately, with some guidelines and possibly new integration technology in place, IT can keep the network humming, productivity up, and employees free to explore better ways to work.

Get a handle on consumer apps at work

Without a combined effort, strengthening IT security isn’t just difficult, it’s virtually impossible. Start the conversation on security now.

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Julia Pickar is a Portland-based broadcaster and print journalist. She has produced stories for NPR, Marketplace, BBC, regional public radio stations as well as serving as a producer on multiple public radio shows including nationally syndicated “To the Point” out of LA. Julia also blogs for numerous start-ups, specializing in social media marketing.