IT pros, workers show a 'disconnect' over mobile devices and policies

Cisco survey points to need for changes in corporate IT policy

Two-thirds of workers in a new survey said their companies need to improve their IT policies, while at the same time, 20% of IT professionals said their relationship with employees is "strained and dysfunctional."

Those findings come from a survey commissioned by Cisco of 2,600 workers and IT pros in 13 countries. Insight Express conducted the survey for Cisco in August and September.

The survey clearly indicated there are differences between IT shops and the workers they serve, made more acute by the desire of mostly young workers to use their own personal mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads , for work tasks, Cisco officials said. Some companies restrict the devices workers can use, while others restrict applications, including access to social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

The report "spotlights the disconnect between IT, employees and policies," Nasrin Rezai, senior director of Cisco Security, said in a statement. "As workforces become more distributed and the consumerization of IT becomes a mainstream fact of life, the importance of updating appropriate policies to accommodate employees' needs, while balancing risk and security, becomes critical."

Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of marketing for borderless networks at Cisco, said in an interview that IT policies "need to keep up with top market trends" such as the proliferation of smartphones employees want to use for work. "IT can increase employee satisfaction if it keeps up with market trends. If the IT department hears and accommodates employees, they can turn into heroes."

Lasser-Raab said that while 21% of the 1,300 IT leaders in the survey described a "strained and dysfunctional" relationship with workers, a clear majority (52%) described the relationship with workers as "strategic...,based on regular, open communication."

Lasser-Raab said she interprets the responses by IT pros as a "glass half-full" because most report regular and open communication.

Also, it turns out that 76% the 1,300 workers in the survey actually said they respect their IT teams, even if 64% feel their company's IT policies could use some improvement. "The 76% shows IT (professionals) are trusted partners, even though IT people a lot of the time feel unappreciated because people come to them with problems and when IT fixes something, workers forget IT," she said.

She also said she wasn't surprised by the fact that one in five IT pros see their relationship with workers as strained. "You hear a lot of people complain in IT, but the complaining can be short-lived," she said, based on nearly 20 years in networking circles.

Cisco focused the findings on the need to adapt and update IT policies to current trends, arguing that IT shops need to communicate policies clearly and more often to workers -- especially regarding security. Explaining network security to a new employee can be futile since a worker is exposed to so many new ideas, Lasser-Raab said.

The 64% who see a need for improved IT policies said they could be updated to reflect real-world expectations and work styles, including finding an acceptable medium between device usage, social media, mobility and work flexibility.

Lasser-Raab said Cisco internally revamped its approach to security, one that is centered on telling Cisco employees "we trust your judgment, but first you need to be trained and are personally responsible for security." Cisco employees are taught about creating effective passwords, protecting passwords and using such devices as a screen cover on a laptop while traveling on a plane or working around strangers, she said.

"We moved from locking down with security to security information sharing," she said. Cisco automates many security updates, as numerous companies do, but its efforts to give employees more responsibility shows there is an "opportunity for companies to adopt trust and education."

She said Cisco has also learned that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, can be used advantageously to promote company events and projects across a large, dispersed work force. "What is viewed as a waste of time can become work time," she said.

In some workplaces, the use of iPods might be discouraged. But they can add to productivity for some other workers, such as software engineers working alone for long periods, she said.

Cisco also found that allowing more devices works. When some Cisco workers started showing up with MacBooks to do their work -- even though the Apple laptops weren't permitted two years ago -- Cisco changed its IT policy to allow the Macs, as long as workers supported the machines themselves. "We quickly got 10,000 Mac users within a year," she said.

The survey found that restrictive policies can lead to a revolt by workers. Overall, only 34% of workers said they adhere to their company's IT policy all of the time, while 56% said they adhere to it most of the time. Some workers (7%) said they sometimes follow the policies, only 2% said they do so "not very often." And just 1% said they never adhere to company policies. Of that 1%, four in 10 said they violated an IT policy to gain access to a restricted program or application to get their job done.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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