New research findings show that European workers have accelerated their usage of consumer mobile devices and social applications in the workplace over the past year. 

The survey, conducted by International Data Corp. (IDC), also shows striking disconnects between what employers believe their workers are doing with these consumer technologies and what the workforce is actually doing – raising questions about how prepared European businesses are to support, secure and ultimately benefit from the consumer-driven mobile and social revolution.

The most positive news for IT executives in this year’s survey is that they recognise the importance of consumerisation of IT for their business. The bad news is that they aren’t doing nearly enough to support and manage the use of consumer technology to enhance workers’ productivity and improve customer service. The longer IT takes to act, the more it risks the organisation’s opportunity to turn consumerisation of IT into a competitive advantage.

The study, which followed original research done in June 2010, consisted of two separate but linked surveys. One survey polled 1,334 end-user information workers (iWorkers) – who use consumer technologies as part of their daily work routine – at European businesses. The second survey was of 264 Europe-based IT executives. The surveys were conducted in the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and were part of a wider global research initiative.

Globally, iWorkers are bringing personal devices into the enterprise at an increasing rate. The study shows that, worldwide, 40 percent of the devices iWorkers use to access business applications are personally owned – a 10-percentage-point increase from last year.

Mobility is increasingly driving working habits in the enterprise. Fifty-two percent of European iWorkers surveyed cite laptops as their key devices for doing work, up from 45 percent in 2010. By contrast, only 29 percent report that desktop PCs will be the most critical work devices in 2012.

iWorkers also now view tablet devices as having an increasingly important role in their work, with eight percent saying that a tablet will be their primary work device in 2012, up from only one percent stating the same for 2011.

While IT departments acknowledge that the consumerisation of IT trend is real and happening, they are struggling to keep up with the penetration of consumer technologies in the workplace.

Of European IT executives surveyed, 78 percent agree with the notion that allowing employees to use their own devices to conduct business positively impacts morale. Also, 41 percent of the IT executives surveyed believe that a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) programme, where employers provide a stipend to employees to purchase their own work devices, is positively linked to increased employee satisfaction and productivity gains.

However, the IT executives underestimate, by as much as 50 percent or more, the extent to which consumer and social technologies have penetrated their organisations. While 73 percent of iWorkers in Europe report that they use their personal smartphones for business purposes, only 31 percent of IT executives believe that to be true. Similarly, 12 percent of iWorkers say they use personal tablets for work, while only seven percent of IT executives report such usage.

IT departments in Europe also appear to be unaware of the extent to which social media applications are being used for business purposes in the workplace. Forty-one percent of iWorkers in Europe report the use of social networks and communities, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, for customer communications, while only 30 percent of their employers believe this to be the case. In addition, 34 percent of iWorkers say they are using social media tools to communicate among themselves, while only 16 percent of IT management believe that the workers are doing so.

When asked how they rate in terms of supporting consumer devices in the workplace, European IT executives gave themselves an average rating of three on a 1.0-to-5.0 scale. Compared to 2010, IT respondents rate themselves lower in support for employee-owned smartphones and tablets, social applications and the integration of social apps with enterprise applications.

Similarly, only four percent of European IT respondents report that their organisation has modernised customer-facing applications to work with mobile devices and 90 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, nearly 81 percent of European IT executives cite “security concerns” and 51 percent say “viruses from social networks such as Facebook.”

Ironically, however, the IT respondents report that they now do less than they did in 2010 to secure mobile devices in several areas, including publication of social media guidelines (45 percent vs. 62 percent), usage of complex passwords (46 percent vs. 59 percent) and single sign-on (49 percent vs. 71 percent).

“There is a lurking danger for IT in ignoring this tide of consumerisation. Doing so exposes businesses to the risk of employees using their own devices with little acknowledgement of company policy or procedure,” comments Nick McQuire, EMEA Research Director Mobile Enterprise Strategies for IDC. “Business executives can’t bury their heads in the sand. Instead, they need to wake up to the fact that this trend will only continue to increase and, rather than being a burden to the company, it actually offers a wealth of opportunity, not only for the IT department, but also for the business as a whole.”