There’s a new force changing the way Cisco IT operates, the way we plan and develop new services, and the way we support our employees. Consumerization is showing us how to help our employees to be more productive and more satisfied – if we can learn to listen and respond. Consumerization has pushed IT to support Macs and iOS devices, and to build a huge and successful Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program. It’s also pushing us to provide or support access to more cloud applications. We don’t know where it’s going to take us next; but we do know that Cisco IT has to become more of an internal service provider or broker to our employees, rather than an organization that dictates technological solutions; an enabler rather than a barrier.

Ten years ago, enterprise IT provided employees with state-of-the-art technology that included network connections, online resources, computers, and other tools that could not be found in their private lives. Today, the opposite is true.

Employees are finding that the technology available to consumers – smartphones, different laptops, and new cloud services – increase their productivity levels at home; and they can be applied to work as well. Consumer products, and more recently consumer cloud services, enable people to do things in new and better ways, and traditional enterprise IT is not able to keep up. Traditional IT resists bringing consumer solutions into the enterprise, because these usually aren’t sufficiently secure, or scalable, or manageable. They can also threaten IT’s culture of control.

For Cisco IT, it started with Macs. We supported PCs and had teams who could troubleshoot, repair, and upgrade PC hardware and software. When some employees wanted to use Mac laptops, Cisco IT didn’t want to double our support costs for a few new laptops and learn a new platform targeted at the consumer. So we chose not to support them in the traditional way. Instead we accepted employees, support their Macs themselves, and the number of Macs at Cisco grew. These Mac users were making themselves more productive and as the numbers grew and less expert users chose a Mac, Cisco IT stepped in to help. Today, we have a thriving IT-supported Mac program, and over 33,000 laptops (out of 120,000) are Macs, and growing.

The next step was BYOD (for more about this, see the new Cisco IT BYOD Overview case study).

When employees started to bring iPhones, other smartphones, and later iPads into the workplace, Cisco IT was already supporting enterprise friendly Blackberry and Symbian mobile devices. The new consumer focused devices presented a different set of challenges such as security, manageability and support. We didn’t want to expand our traditional mobility program to include what looked like a lot of new types of devices. We didn’t want and couldn’t afford to learn how to provision and secure and support them all, or how to scale the service if it grew dramatically (which it did). A different approach was needed. We had learned a great deal from our Mac program and we were able to apply the principles to mobility. Our focus changed from supporting to enabling and harnessing the employee enthusiasm and expertise on their chosen devices. This involved taking IT out of the centre and introducing self support and crowd sourcing. For example we enable users to help each other through IT hosted user forums. IT play a part too through publishing guidance and help for users. Since 2009, Cisco IT’s mobile device fleet has grown to over 70,000 employee-owned devices (over 17,000 iPads, 36,000 iPhones, 13,000 Androids, 4000 BlackBerrys, and more) onto the network.

We had to develop new design policies to handle all these new devices, along with finding new ways of provisioning, securing, and supporting them. That required major changes in the way IT operates.

Once access and security issues were addressed, employees began asking for enterprise applications and a single place to find mobile apps for their new devices; and out of multiple repositories Cisco IT built one. Employees can now find all the IT services and apps they need for any device in the internal Cisco eStore. eStore is like an app store, but the eStore provisions services as well as delivers apps. Cisco IT has shifted to provide the end user with a familiar experience from the consumer service-ordering world.

What’s next for Cisco IT? Today, we are aware that we compete with external service providers and vendors to provide the services that our employees want, while ensuring security remains uncompromised. For example, our end users find and use external (and unsecure) cloud storage services. To address this obvious need we are working on a secure, cloud-based file storage service that we can use to share files both within and outside Cisco. Another example: To support both user demand and some business value cases, Cisco IT is considering how to introduce BYOD for non-Cisco laptops, enabling employees and partners to work with us without requiring a Cisco IT supported laptop. And of course we continue to expand our mobile app and service portfolio, and increase the set of IT services that our eStore can deliver internally.

I don’t really know what the next big user trend in the workplace will be. But I do know that Cisco IT has learned a few things to help prepare us to respond to new trends. We’ve learned to recognize that not all good productivity tools come from traditional enterprise IT, but also from consumer-based tools and consumer-based cloud services. We’ve learned that users have choices. Cisco IT understands that we are operating in a competitive environment. We have to offer the business and employees options and services they want. We are just starting to realize that IT will provide more value by enabling employees to use consumer or cloud tools, as long as the solution is secure, scalable, manageable, and affordable, rather than insisting on limiting employees to standard IT solutions. We are becoming more of a services organization.

Cisco IT’s transformation to a services organization has become more user focused and is showing signs of success. A 28 percent increase in user satisfaction with our BYOD program over the past 2 years confirms that IT is bridging the gap between users and IT as a services organization. As we continue this journey, we must remain alert for trends, for new user tools and new cloud services that look promising, and learn how to manage and support and secure them quickly before our employees start using them. This is easier said than done, but worth doing.

What stands in the way of success? Traditional IT culture is not designed to look for consumer trends and find ways to secure/scale/manage. In the past our position may have been defensive and focused on keeping consumer services out! It’s always been easier to buy the latest IT tool that already is secure, scalable, and manageable. That said, Cisco IT is successfully intertwining these approaches in our BYOD solutions, our laptop program, and to a degree in our quest for secure cloud services like WebEx (which came to us via traditional IT) and other cloud services. We face an interesting and exciting future with regards to enterprise applications and cloud services, but Cisco IT is evolving to meet the consumer-driven needs of employees.