Smartphones in the enterprise: A decade of productivity (and lots of personal texting)


Ten years ago, on June 29, 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. This bold bid to capture the mobile consumer market from established players such as Nokia and Blackberry maker Research in Motion soon would trigger a movement called “consumerization,” which would have a huge impact on enterprises and IT professionals.

Whereas once IT pros exerted tight control (or at least tried to) over the devices used to access enterprise resources and data, the sudden influx of iPhones into the workplace — overtly or not — created new security challenges and helped fuel the rise of mobile device management platforms.

The value proposition of consumerization rests on two main premises:

  1. Enterprise employees are more productive and happier when they are able to use the tools of their choice to do their jobs.
  2. Allowing employees to use their own smartphones (through BYOD programs) will save money.

While the latter is undeniably true, the first premise is the topic of ongoing debate. In a Frost & Sullivan survey released in August 2016, U.S. enterprise workers said their smartphones boosted their productivity by an average of 34 percent.

But a CareerBuilder survey unveiled just two months prior identified smartphone use as the major source of workplace sloth and distraction, ahead of the internet, gossip, social media, and “co-workers dropping by.” Topping the list of smartphone goofing-off activities were personal texting, weather (seriously?) and news.

More recently, Forbes contributor Larry Alton essentially concludes that smartphones can benefit an enterprise if “strong and clear” policies and guidelines are in place. It’s hard to disagree with that, especially when it comes to security. Even with their own devices, employees can be careless; phones that lack fundamental security features such as access codes can, if stolen or lost, expose enterprise data.

On balance, I’d lean toward the argument that smartphones have a net positive effect on enterprises, mainly through increased flexibility, which directly impacts productivity. People always will find a way to zone out and waste time on the job; that’s no reason to keep a powerful (and, to them, familiar) productivity tool out of their hands.

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  1. Nice piece. It makes me wonder how I would answer those survey questions for myself. 2 questions:

    First, is texting and browsing the Internet really goofing off? Blogs, videos, IM, etc. are how I stay connected with the company and the industry. Sometimes I feel like I learn more about what’s going on in the company by following people on Twitter than reading my company email

    Second, if we take away phones, do you think people will really stop “goofing off?”


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