Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The case for the "Cafeteria" plan...

Remember the local hardware store? Your parents knew the checkout boy; there was a shelf of light bulbs rather than a big light department; and you lingered up front looking for quarters in the gumball machines….With the ice-cream counter selling root beer floats (OK, only if you are really old!)
Enter the Home Depot, WalMart and all the other gamechangers.

Well, it's that time again. It is time for ma and pa organizations to get out of the business of a different kind of "hardware". And I don’t mean light bulbs and hammers. I mean desktops and laptops.

Five+ years ago, the latest technology used to first appear at your organization, and many years later you got it for your home. The reason was that hardware was expensive. Very expensive. The place where you worked always had better technology than what you had at home. Organizational technology was more expensive, much more sophisticated, and provided a far better user experience than anything you and your kids used at home.

In recent years, with the advent of Apple's groundbreaking products (iPhone, iPad etc.) and the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets (which together now outsell all laptops and desktops combined) - the tables have finally turned. The newer, sleeker, better technology is well within reach of the average consumer.

The "consumerization" of technology now means that, in many instances, technology is coming into the enterprise after you the consumer have already bought it for your personal use.

The leading edge of the technology wave is now (literally) in the hands of the consumer and not the enterprise. The user now demands that the organization make resources for work available and accessible on these personal devices. And if the organization does not do this - in many instances, the users access the data on these devices anyway, because they can.

IT shops and technology decision makers have not reconciled themselves to this change.  They prefer the image of the elite provider (read: IT Shop) working with the specialty vendor to outfit the staff rather than acknowledge the Saturday afternoon shopping habits at <insert favorite retail conglomerate> of their staff who are busy adding to a pile of electronics already at home and better than what they find at their desks at work.

It is time for enterprises to cede this arena to the user and get out of the business of maintaining hardware once and for all. In fact it may be time for the organization to create a template where each user is given a fixed amount of money every few years and can buy the technology which they want to buy and which they use to access the enterprise resources and assets. They would buy such a device from a technology "Cafeteria Plan"  provided to them by the organization, and very similar to the cafeteria plan for their HR benefits.

You select what you need and you buy it and maintain it.

The organization offsets or subsidizes the cost of technology. And the support plan? You buy that too. IT cannot fix your iPad or iPhone anyway. Why not make it official? If you lose your device, you buy another one. Again, one of your own choice. The organization is not in the business of providing you hardware just like they are not in the business of providing you a car to come to work.

Perhaps IT can make recommendations on hardware which the users can purchase. Maybe they can even provide instructions on how to access the enterprise assets on such devices. They may even assist with some installation, or provide guidance on minimum requirements e.g. an anti-virus etc. But it is the user's personal device and the organization needs to be careful not to become liable for such devices (a topic for another day).

In most organizations, the cell phone is already a personal device. That handoff was completed a few years ago. It is now time for laptops and desktops to follow suit.

The cafeteria plan, which entitled you to select which dentist, 401(k) or other benefits, now includes your very own choice of hardware.....You can have any device you want, as long as it can connect you to the organizational resources and allow you to do your work.

And if you have a history of dropping your cell phone into the sink, buy the extra protection rider. It’s your call.  Because Ma and Pa are retiring from the hardware business.

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