CIOs: get ready for the blizzard of holiday gift gadgets coming to work

Credit: William Brawley via Flickr

The holiday shopping season is revving up, and buyers are already scoping out and admiring the heavenly high-tech gadgets that will bring smiles to the faces of their loved ones when Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa and other holidays arrive in December.

The Washington Post even sounded an alarm recently in a story about the pending onslaught.  "Microsoft and Google have a plan for this holiday season: To reach every gadget-happy shopper seeking a new smartphone or tablet," the Post reported.

So what's a worried CIO to do in January? How will they handle all these new devices when they show up with their excited new owners after the holidays?

"Certainly after the holidays we do see an uptick in the numbers of personal devices brought in by employees," said Franz Fruewald, CIO with Catholic Human Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "There will be iPads, Kindle Fires, and others. I can support and will support their access, but I won't support the devices themselves."

An influx of new devices received as gifts will be part of the regular workload for his help desk staff of nine workers, who serve about 3,000 IT users across some 125 locations in the metropolitan area, said Fruewald. "We're not experiencing anything that we haven’t before."

Several new devices that will be sold this holiday season could make things busier, he added. "It may be increasing now with more Android devices and other tablets, such as the Kindle Fire."

The keys to being able to integrate new personal devices into the workplace are ensuring the security of the data and personal information that is accessed and stored, adjusting to the bandwidth needs of the additional devices, and managing employee expectations about the help they will receive to use the devices, said Fruewald.

"Most of our human service programs are subject to HIPAA and HITECH rules, which really gives us cause for concern when employees are bringing their devices into the workplace," he said. "Then as people bring in their own personal devices, they expect their own bandwidth for them and that begins to crowd out others."

IT managers have to decide what to do to control those issues and costs, he said.

So is the thought of all of this making his stomach hurt?

"It's nothing new," he said. "Once Apple opened up iOS to Microsoft's ActiveSync with the iPhone 3, that opened up the floodgates right there. That allowed people to get their corporate mail on their personal devices with no hassle. That is something we have to support officially because now it has become an expectation."

Phillip Farr, CEO of IT consultancy Farr Systems and a former corporate CIO, said new personal devices that will be purchased for the holidays are already on the minds of many of his clients, many of whom attend monthly CIO roundtable lunches sponsored by his company.

"It comes up in every conversation that we have," said Farr of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. "Most people are just getting buffetted by it. And when the holiday season hits with all this new stuff, and Microsoft did just announce its new tablet, it's about to get infinitely more complex."

CIOs and other IT managers will need to "take time to sort through what will work and what won't work," said Farr. "Sounding the alarm now is a good thing."

Forward-looking CIOs are already doing their homework on how they will cope with the swell of incoming personal devices come January, he said. "They are not waiting for vendors" to help them. They’ve accepted that consumer devices are now driving part of their programs and their techniques are most often to do a straddle of the devices to fit them in with company needs."

Corporate IT officials need to make it clear to those workers that the company will maintain control over the security of the information, while also trying to give best-efforts performance due to the wide range of devices that may be brought in, said Farr. Another key, he said, is to make it clear that your IT department will pick and choose which devices you will allow employees to use for their work.

Companies can't securely deal with 30 to 300 iterations for mobile devices that can be connected and used, said Farr. "If you think that you have a secure way of managing all of those, then you're not thinking clearly."

In the end, however, maybe CIOs and IT managers won't face a nightmare after Christmas, said Dan Maycock, a mobile analyst with Slalom Consulting.

For one, CIOs and IT managers  have likely already experienced some of this coming new device mania before.

"Last year IT managers started going through this," said Maycock. "This year, they are more ready. The complexity, heterogeneousness, and the nuances of the latest devices are different this year, but they already support some of these things."

What that means, he said, is that while the upcoming assortment of new holiday gadgets will bring new issues into workplaces, they'll just get tossed into the existing mix. "It won't be as big a deal as in past years," he said.

"We are getting to the maturity phase," said Maycock. "The whole process will be getting simpler over the next three to five years."

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