The trends that will shape how IT operates in 2017 can be summed up with a familiar slogan: Power to the people!
A quiet revolution has been underway inside companies: IT no longer holds the power over many computing decision and processes – the user does.
The momentum has been building for the past decade as tech manufacturers and consumers have redefined the word computer. A laptop? A phone? A tablet? A cloud? A watch? A thing? Or, all of the above? The people want it all, and they want it now. Despite some IT organizations struggling to close the door on user choice, the people have powered through. And in 2017, they are going to kick the door in.
Here’s a look at three trends that are defining this new user-influenced world:
1. The end of the IT dictatorship.
Gone are the days when IT got to mandate what kind of computer an employee used. Lack of choice gave birth to the BYOD movement several years ago – if you couldn't use a device of your choosing, then you would bring your own. In 2017, we’ll see more proof that it’s grown into a full-fledged democratic system.
Millennials – who overtook Gen Xers as the largest generation in the workforce early in 2015, according to Pew Research Center – are responsible for much of the new freedom. Millennials expect to have a voice in decisions that affect them, including their technology. For example, we see more IT departments offering catalogues of devices rather than forcing one kind on employees.
For most Millennials, the clear choice is Macs. This generation grew up as Apple was regaining popularity with consumers and released device after device that became integral parts of their lives. Someone born in 1984 – the same year as the Macintosh – possibly had an iMac as his or her first home computer in middle school. In high school, the iPod and iTunes became standard equipment as the digital music revolution took off. In college, the Mac was the popular choice to bring to class, with various reports showing that 70 percent of college freshmen preferred Mac over Windows PCs. Millennials were early adopters of the iPhone and iPad. And now, 75 percent of corporate employees say they prefer a Mac over a PC, according to a survey by Jamf.
So Macs’ footprint in the workplace is swelling. What was once taboo for IT shops – supporting Macs – is becoming increasingly common to meet user demand. As proof, the original maker of the IBM-compatible PC itself has begun offering Mac choice and 100,000 IBMers now walk around with Mac laptops. Another 200,000 say they will select a Mac at their next refresh.
But, laptop computer choice is only one example. Employees are also choosing phones, tablets, wearables and other internet of things (IoT). Employees are designing their own experience and IT teams must respond to it. It's a 180-degree shift from the 1990s and early 2000s.
2. Users, not devices, make the world turn.
Since the dawn of the "personal" computer, employees have been assigned their own device. It was personal. It was theirs – so much so that when employees left companies, the fate of their company-supplied computer often was a point of contention.
But, we’re entering a time when the computer is no longer the center of the universe – the person is. Major technology changes of the last decade have enabled this significantly more user-centric environment. Cloud storage allows employees to be less concerned about their device and more concerned about access to the data they've saved. Given that many store work and personal data in the cloud, the thought of losing their computer becomes less scary.
Combine that with device and application management software that automatically loads each device with custom user-driven builds, and users could literally select a new device every day without losing productivity.
This capability has led to the emergence of workflows where users share devices. Interestingly, this trend first started in K-12 schools, where carts of iPads are rolled into a classroom. Students can choose any iPad, tap their picture on the home screen, and then that iPad is totally personal, including all of the data and applications used the last time the student fired up an iPad – even though the iPad itself is likely different than the one used yesterday.
These shared use cases are now making their way into other organizations. Examples we’ll see more of in 2017 include hospital patients, nurses and doctors, workers in banks, retail stores, truck drivers and field technicians. One day, likely not in 2017, I see corporate employees showing up to work, selecting a device of their choosing for THAT DAY and using it as if they've been using it every day. After all, it's about the user, not the computer.
3. Putting the support in IT Support.
Remember Nick Burns the cantankerous IT support guy played by Jimmy Fallon on “Saturday Night Live” several years ago? We laughed because it was real.
We had all experienced the embarrassment of having to crawl to IT support with the words, “something is wrong with my computer.” This sentence was often met with an eye roll, and maybe even a Nick Burns-like command, “move!”
Employees today want better. Fortunately, most IT teams want to do better. After all, If IT is no longer about being a dictatorship, then what is it about? In this new democracy, IT is about keeping us safe, enabling and empowering people, and providing consumer-like support and service.
Forward-thinking IT teams today are delivering what the people want and expect: the same type of support they would get from the Genius Bar in an Apple retail store. People want strong expertise, helpful attitudes and a more consumer-like feel to all their IT interactions. A great example of this is IBM IT offering a 60-day money-back period if your chosen computer doesn't work for you.
In the new year, companies will step up their game focusing on the user versus the device itself. They have no choice. This shift in the employee expectations is prompting IT to reevaluate the definition of IT service, and the practices and workflows they deploy to users.
If a company fails to provide them an experience that is somewhat consumer-like, employees may not want to work there. In 2017, an even more user-centric approach to tech support will take hold. From IT service portals and zero-touch deployments to device trial periods, such as return policy, and in-person support bars, user-centric IT will become critical to recruiting and retaining top talent as well as overall employee satisfaction.
In this new “power to the people” world, users’ influence has never been higher and IT departments, who haven’t yet embraced this reality, will have to adapt.
Dean Hager is CEO of Jamf, an Apple management company.