Collaboration extends across modern companies of every kind and size. But that pervasiveness tends to mask a simple truth—that collaboration is anything but a common, static practice. Instead, it is a dynamic process that is constantly evolving, reflecting broader, deeper changes in organizations and markets. These include the appearance of new, often disruptive business tools, including “bring your own” devices (BYOD) employees choose themselves.
Stocking the Enterprise Toolbox
Not surprisingly, the value and efficiency of collaboration are directly impacted by the tools people have at their disposal. Three decades ago, the typical office was a far different workplace than it is today. In fact, it wasn’t unusual to find employees who spent the majority of their time operating just one sort of business machine or another—typewriters, adding machines, copiers and so on.
The arrival of the PC and complementary technologies helped organizations evolve from groups of often-unequal specialists into teams of productive and creative multi-taskers. Interestingly enough, this progression continued as Microsoft’s Windows and Office productivity applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint paved the way for increasingly virtual and social business tools.
The arrival of the PC may have inspired generations of creative employees and managers but its lessons aren’t precisely applicable to many BYOD products. Over time, PCs evolved into powerful general business platforms in part because they are capable of simultaneously supporting full-featured applications and processes. Notebook computers are designed to deliver those same capabilities in mobile form factors, from ultra-lightweight laptops to powerful desktop replacements.
In contrast, the path from PDAs to smart phones to tablets was strewn with compromises emphasizing mobility over system performance, and content consumption over content creation. This doesn’t mean workers can’t use smart phones and tablets productively. People are remarkably adaptive, especially when they’re aided by creative, motivated developers. But it is no surprise that, the vast majority of related apps and services focus on personal enrichment and entertainment, not business productivity.
As many businesses and individuals have found over the years, Microsoft Office retains its leadership position despite the availability of numerous cheap or even free alternatives. Finally, most smart phones and tablets support only rudimentary multi-tasking making them subject to what might be called a “Cuisinart effect”; despite being a terrific, well-designed kitchen tool, you can still only use one blade at a time.
Shift Your Perspective on BYOD
The point of BYOD shouldn’t be to merely allow workers to use the products they like, and to assume that supporting those choices will automatically enhance productivity and performance. In fact, qualitative reports suggest that the benefits accrued by BYOD are at least partially offset by the strain and cost that unfamiliar new devices and platforms place on IT.
An equally important consideration is whether and how these new devices, skills and applications constructively impact employee collaboration and productivity. Much of the success of personal computers and computing arose from workers leveraging common platforms that supported most or all of the applications and processes required for their jobs. Are multiple, heterogeneous platforms and devices capable of delivering similar benefits?
That’s a common, if unsupported assumption. Certainly, today’s workers are more skilled and comfortable with using multiple devices and interfaces than those in the past. However, if the adoption of BYOD products results in any decay of core skills or an unequal distribution of tasks and responsibility, the erosion of productive group collaboration seems virtually inevitable. Until reliable, replicable research examines the claims and assumptions around BYOD, we would urge organizations to be cautious.
For more information on other unintended consequences of welcoming external mobile devices into the enterprise, see part 2 of this BYOD blog series.
Click here for Intel's guide to strengthening efficiency and security in the mobile enterprise.
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