At the recent CoreNet Global Summit in Atlanta, one of the issues that came to the fore is not traditionally something in the real estate domain: technology and the pace of its change. More specifically, in several sessions, discussion revolved around the fact that employees are increasingly bringing their own personal tech tools to the workplace. Bringing Your Own Technology - Pretty Young Thing – (with apologies to the Gloved One) is and will continue to happen whether corporate America wants it or not. There are a whole host of interesting challenges but also opportunities surrounding this phenomenon.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Back in ancient history, say a year ago, companies could still control access to the Internet via their networks. They provided merely adequate hardware tools that knowledge workers were required to use in order to complete their tasks. Now, thanks to Steve Jobs and many others, machines are getting more personal and far more powerful. I tell friends that my iPhone isn’t necessarily the best business handheld, but it is by far the best all around life machine. It goes with me most everywhere and I bet I'm not alone in this regard.
And oh my, the power is incredible. For comparison, consider the Apollo Guidance Computer in the 1960’s had a 2048 word (!) erasable memory. How that machine took a man to the moon is still a miracle and a testament to the fortitude, smarts and courage of those early NASA engineers and astronauts.
Today’s generation of iPhones are incredibly advanced from even a few years ago. On memory alone, I carry 64 gigabits around in my pocket. What would have happened to Apollo 13 with a dual-core Apple processor on board (iApollo)? My iPhone is nearly 11 million times more powerful than that Apollo unit, and in the memory alone can hold between 3 and 6 million books. Simply amazing! It's fun to think that, based on sheer computing power, you or I could fly a mission to outer space on the power of the smart phone on which you might be reading this very blog.
I Want My Network
But that’s kind of the point in corporate America. Gen Y – and increasingly all generations – are showing up to work with the latest and most powerful devices that slip into any pocket. Whether you use brand Apple, Droid, or any other personal machine, these devices continue to become far more important in the lives of Gen X but are required for life itself in Gen Y.
Now, with the advent of cheap portable Wi-Fi networks and hotspots, employees can download previously banned sites like ESPN, Facebook, and YouTube. The Berlin Wall IT tried to put up, for perfectly good reasons, has fallen. Put another way, knowledge workers have seen the light and will not turn back to technological darkness.
This access and power brings with it challenges, but also great opportunity. On the challenge side, corporate IT departments are currently going crazy worried about the safety of company data and work product. They are issuing proclamations that suggest they are still in control and begging employees to keep data on the companies' networks and in their cloud. IT claims to have the ability to inspect any machine that employees bring on campus. In many cases, legal agrees, but this is an emerging area of the law. Besides, many employees simply say “Good luck with inspecting my private device; you can pry my iPhone from my cold dead fingers." Don't forget that the best knowledge workers have job portability despite the economy.
On the opportunity side, we anticipate great new ideas and collaboration facilitated by amazing leaps forward in technology. The new platforms enable people to communicate, think, and work in ways that are constantly changing. Besides, the hardware is simply a vehicle for amazing software, including social media platforms, that are both changing rapidly. For example, in my own company, we are experimenting with the social networking platform Yammer to share best practices. Emerging technology in its best usage can affect the Holy Grail; increase employee productivity, and that's something every executive should be interested in.
Hey Kid, Over Here
We certainly understand the angst that IT, Legal, HR and all the leadership have with technology "gone wild". There are serious issues that companies need to think about in terms of protection of data from competitive snooping, lawsuits and the like.
But before we put up big chain link fences and tell employees what they absolutely positively can’t do, we should keep in mind iPhones, Droids, and other similar devices will keep coming, and our whole society is adopting them into both work and life. No matter how many memos we send, people will keep using these tools. Our challenge is to figure out how to embrace this change and work through the security questions, instead of the other way around.
What About The Sticks and Bricks?
So, since this is a real estate space, we will ask what does the personal technology invasion mean for those charged with delivering the space – that envelope in which we conduct business? As Jim Young, CEO of Realcomm suggested at the recent CoreNet Summit, a closer alignment with IT, HR and Legal is in order. This issue will not go away, and all of us in corporate real estate must be prepared to address changing technology issues. Besides, you will certainly be appreciated internally if you are a leader in this area as opposed to a follower.
If you are the real estate executive, call your sister departments and host a lunch. Invite the CFO if it is appropriate as well. If you are CEO, CFO or in the C-suite, so much the better. Bet folks will accept your lunch invitation either way.
May we suggest that the first topic be how to improve productivity on both an individual and a corporate level with the use of these machines. Appoint an "apps czar" and schedule lunch and learns. Your own employees will likely be happy to lead these, but you have to ask. Ask internal innovators to tell you what they are doing with their machines and apps (see this article on Reverse Mentoring from today's Wall Street Journal). Challenge the team to work with you, and you might be shocked at the outcome. The machines are, of course, only the on-ramp for this new collaboration.
As to the legal and IT issues, rules are made to help people. These rules can evolve as appropriate, but you should first figure out how to harness the phenomenon of personal technology to help the enterprise. The dance of the iPhones is already happening in your workplace, like it or not.
Besides, if you cant beat ‘em, join ‘em. You and all the PYT’s.