ORLANDO -- IT execs are forever concerned about the growing number of gadgets workers are bringing from home for use in the enterprise.
The best advice from IT execs and industry analysts at the Enterprise Connect conference here this week was: Keep up with social networks and how they can be used in the business.
"What's driving us in IT is the consumerization of IT," said David Nettles, director of IT architecture and compliance at Rayonier, a global forest products company based in Jacksonville, Fla. "If we don't provide them with a smartphone, they have their own."
Increasingly, he added, IT managers must deal with the spread of social networks in the company, he said. "Now they're all on Facebook and Google+ and Twitter."
Nettles said Rayonier has turned to Microsoft SharePoint and Google Apps to start laying the groundwork to enable their employees to work more collaboratively.
"It's pretty hard for us to control the evolution of technology," Nettles told a conference audience. "At first, we say, let's control it all. We say, you can't post to Facebook while you're at work, but they can. They just pull out their smartphone. To think you can stop them is a little naive."
Social networking use is exploding in the consumer world, says Brett Shockley, a senior vice president and general manager at Avaya, a business collaboration and communications company. And while many companies haven't decided to use social collaboration tools, many of their workers are already using them for business purposes.
"What pushes companies the hardest is that people just start using [social networks for business purposes]," he said. "Companies have to go into police mode to try to stop it. Ultimately, I don't think there's a way to stop it. You can try to lock everything down. But at some point, you have to come up with something."
For instance, many workers use Foursquare to keep co-workers updated on their whereabouts during business travel.
Shockley also noted that a lot of employees use texting tools and Twitter to communicate with co-workers and business partners.
The increasing business use of consumer social tools has a lot of IT managers pretty stressed out, says Shockley. "Every company I talk to says it's real, and that I had better deal with it and figure out how to manage it," he added.
Peter Hirst, executive director of executive education at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says that IT executives must deal with a definite level of user expectation.
"There's a [social] experience that our customers are having in their personal lives, and they're increasingly impatient to see it reflected in the way they work with us," said Hirst, who is in a pilot program with Avaya's Live Engage.
"We're not competing with other business schools. We're competing with Pizza Hut, in terms of the way people want to interact with a business," Hirst told Computerworld.
Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said the consumerization of social networking tools is simply a step in the process of companies adopting the technology for internal use.
"IT needs to respond by providing the tools that the business side needs to foster the collaboration they desire," Olds said.
"This task is a bit easier these days because folks on the business side can now say they need a specific feature like one they use in Twitter or Facebook or Google+," he said.
"Before the rise of consumer social networks, businesses knew that they wanted something that would aid intercompany collaboration, but they didn't have any good examples to point at to show what they needed," Olds said. "Now they do."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is email@example.com.