Consumer device use grows, but IT and security can't keep up

Unisys finds more workers are using consumer devices, such as iPhones and iPads. But IT departments are struggling to keep up

IT and security managers are slowly embracing the growing number of consumer devices, such as iPhones and iPads, that are being used by workers within their organizations, but many enterprises are still overwhelmed by the need to mitigate risk and support the devices. That is the finding of new research released Tuesday by Unisys Corporation. The study was conducted for Unisys by International Data Corp.

While similar research last year found enterprise IT departments were unprepared for the rapidly growing usage of consumer technologies in the workplace, according to the updated survey findings the "consumerization gap" appears to be widening as more organizations realize the trend is unstoppable and inevitable.

[See also: Just say yes: Why banning consumer devices makes your organization less secure]

But awareness doesn't equal readiness, according to the study. While IT departments see business value in allowing mobile workers to use personal devices and access social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, they are "hamstrung by security and support issues and a growing workload," a report summary states.

"The good news from the new research is that, in contrast to last year, IT executives are recognizing that the consumerization of IT trend is real and inevitable," said Fred Dillman, Unisys chief technology officer. "However, they appear to be frozen by the magnitude of issues created by the rapidly growing usage of consumer technologies within the enterprise."

The study draws upon two separate but related surveys conducted in nine countries. One study surveyed nearly 2,660 information workers within organizations, while the second study polled some 560 IT department executives and managers. The surveys were conducted in nine countries worldwide.

Results find workers are bringing personal devices into the enterprise at an increasing rate, with 40 percent of the devices used to access business applications being personally owned; a 10-percentage-point increase from last year. Use of social media applications, blogging, and microblogging in the enterprise also increased. This year 20 percent of organizations surveyed used Facebook and MySpace for business purposes, while just 8 percent said they used the site for business in 2010.

Unisys said this increasing penetration of consumer technology in the enterprise is being driven by a desire for mobility. Fifty-three percent of workers surveyed said mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets are their most critical devices for doing work, up from 44 percent in 2010. That rate is expected to rise in 2012 with 65 percent noting that a mobile device will be their most critical work device next year.

IT departments aren't ready for consumer technology and aren't aware of how far-reaching it is already

While IT executives recognize the consumerization trend, and many believe allowing the use of personal devices raises employee morale, they are falling behind in their efforts to both support the devices and effectively manage security concerns around them, according to the research. The survey found workers report using smart mobile devices for business purposes at twice the rate that IT executives believe to be the case, with 69 percent usage reported by employees vs. 34 percent of IT executives stating workers used these devices for work.

The scenario was the same for social media access: 44 percent of employees noted they use social networks and communities for customer communication. Yet only 28 percent of employers thought that was the case.

"IT departments also seem to be falling further behind in terms of readying their organizations to serve new generations of mobile, tech-savvy consumers," the report summary states. "Only 6 percent of IT decision-makers surveyed report that their organization has modernized customer-facing applications to work with mobile devices, and 89 percent report that they have no plans to do so over the next year."

When asked what are the greatest barriers to enabling employees to use personal devices at work, 83 percent of IT respondents cited "security concerns" and 56 percent said "viruses from social networks such as Facebook."

"Ironically, however, IT respondents indicate that they now do less than they did in 2010 to secure mobile devices in several areas, including publication of social media guidelines," according to Unisys officials, noting fewer organizations were now requiring employee training, usage of complex passwords in order to mitigate risk.

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