Skip the navigation

Managing 'Prosumers'

The new wave of handheld consumer devices in the workplace means new headaches for IT managers.

August 8, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - An IT manager wandering through the exhibits at a mobile and wireless computing expo might well wonder where the explosion of new applications and devices, many created for the consumer world, will lead.
How can a company even begin to manage live TV on cellular phones? How will the proliferating wireless e-mail be stored? How will it all be made secure, with so many different networks and devices and applications?
Companies have faced, and sometimes ignored, the demands of managing handhelds and wireless devices for years. IT managers waver between two approaches: Throw open the floodgates and try to accommodate what's coming, or throw up your hands and ban everything except what you deem acceptable.
But the problem will become more complex as new college grads arrive at work -- and bring the consumer-focused devices and applications they see not as toys but as essential tools they have integrated into their lives.
When a young "prosumer" (short for professional/consumer) shows up with streaming video clips, live broadcast TV and a whole range of instant messaging, collaboration and music-downloading options on his smart phone, how will IT hold the line on standards?
And if he wants to use the device for work-related e-mail, access to corporate databases or storage of corporate data, will IT restrict the access pathway? What happens when that worker resists using separate devices for work and personal life? Will IT allow frivolous functions to run on the same approved devices as mission-critical ones?
Analysts say that over the next two years, these and other scenarios will force IT managers into the roleof enforcer as never before. "The IT department has to do something about more and more consumer-type devices entering the enterprise," says Roberta Cozza, a U.K.-based analyst at Gartner Inc.
This will require careful planning at the highest management levels to develop policies that control devices and applications to limit security lapses and IT headaches while still winning the support of end users.
Two Approaches
Some IT managers are already holding a tough line on handhelds and wireless devices, while others have tried to accommodate innovations.
"Why do we in IT care what that new hire just out of college wants to run on his phone or device?" says the assistant vice president of IT compliance at a Western bank. (She asked to remain anonymous because her company is in acquisition talks.) She believes the bank should ignore user pleas for consumer applications and set strict controls on devices and access.
"You have to protect the enterprise," she says. "You have to protect the customer. It's a

Our Commenting Policies