High-tech David vs Goliath: Smartphones beat IT giants

Just as email has trumped snail-mail and online sites like Twitter have helped make print newspapers all but obsolete, a coterie of small consumer electronics is showing itself to be — in many ways — more nimble, responsive and effective than the once almighty corporate IT department.

A growing number of people in the workforce are finding that smartphones, iPads and apps like Facebook and Google Docs are helping them to do their jobs better and more efficiently than their organizations’ in-house computing platforms. What’s more: in some cases, their employers are discovering they’re right … and switching technology strategies to take advantage of the benefits.

A recent study from the global consulting firm Accenture, for example, gives the example of a nurse at a Canadian hospital who found a way to save time, care for patients better and reduce staff aggravation with her mobile phone. Her simple innovation? Take a cellphone photo of a patient’s wound before applying a fresh dressing. That simple action prevented the need for doctors arriving later to remove new bandages to check on healing progress, something that would require a nurse to once again dress a wound that had just been freshly covered. The hospital’s IT department has since set up a system where photos can be uploaded to a central location for doctors to view securely as needed.

IT departments aren’t always so welcoming of such innovations, though. Accenture cites another study that found that 80 percent of IT professionals oppose the use of consumer electronics like cellphones and iPads in the workplace. That’s likely to be an objection they’ll have to give up eventually. For one thing, it would be all but impossible to require workers to, say, check their cellphones at the front desk at the start of the day. But an even bigger reason is that BYOT (bring your own technology) is actually helping many organizations do things better than before.

In another example, a tech-savvy US Army captain used $26,000 of his own money to — in a matter of weeks — develop a smartphone app that helps troops identify the location of the enemy, know where to direct artillery fire and call for medical helicopters. Compare that to the US Defense Department, which has spent 12 years working to develop a battlefield radio system that would feature devices far heavier, and more expensive, than any smartphone.

“The genie is already out of the bottle,” one executive surveyed by Accenture said.

“IT consumerization will present one of the biggest tests — and most exciting opportunities — for business and IT executives within in the next five years,” the consulting firm’s study concludes. “Ignoring it … and resisting it … are not viable options for most organizations. In fact, both of these responses are tantamount to capitulation.”

Instead, it continued, organizations will need to develop “thoughtful, pragmatic strategies regarding consumer IT.” Doing that will not only help to attract skilled and knowledgeable employees but will help businesses themselves sharpen their competitive edges.”


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