Cisco: There's a Disconnect Between IT, Employees

The latest results from Cisco's Connected World survey shows that the proliferation of mobile devices and use of social media is causing strain between workers and IT staffs.

There is a significant disconnect between IT departments and an increasingly mobile workforce that is bringing a host of new devices into the workplace and looking to leverage social media such as Facebook and Twitter in their jobs, according to Cisco Systems officials.

Pointing to the second round of results from its Connected World Report, Cisco officials said Nov. 8 that at a time when employees are using more of their own personal wireless devices in their work places and using social media sites to collaborate with customers and co-workers, IT policies in many places are still fairly stringent, causing friction between IT and the workforce.

Many times that disconnect manifests itself in employees going around IT policies that they see as being too restrictive and that hinder their ability to do their job efficiently.

"As these devices are coming into the environment, employees are questioning IT policy," Nasrin Rezai, senior director of IT security at Cisco Security, said during a press conference shown on Cisco TV, noting that the ease of getting these mobile devices and accessing social media sites is increasing the friction. "Employees will use devices and get on social media regardless of IT policies."

Cisco's Connected World Report is the result of a survey of 2,600 workers and IT professionals from 13 countries conducted in August and September asking about IT trends. Cisco released the first results in October, noting that a more than half of those surveyed said they do not need to be in an office to be productive, thanks to the growth of Internet-connected devices.

This round of results looked at the relationship between IT departments and company employees. Among the key findings were that while 82 percent of companies surveyed have IT policies, about 24 percent of employees do not realize these policies exist. Another 23 percent said their companies don't have policies on appropriate device use.

Thirty-five percent of employees of companies with IT policies say they don't provide rationales, and 64 percent said they need to be improved to reflect real-world demands around devices, social media and mobile working. Forty-one percent of those employees who admit breaking IT policy say they do so in order to do their jobs.

Cisco officials say the results reflect the need to update IT policies to deal with the realities of today's workforce. While necessary, it's not an easy task, especially given the rapid growth in the number of mobile devices available, said Maria Hattar, vice president of Cisco's Borderless Networks business. She pointed to the recent popularity of tablets, fueled by Apple's release earlier this year of its iPad.

"By the time IT departments qualify [tablets] three or fourth months later, half of the company's employees already have it," Hattar said.

Still, the survey shows the need to continue to evolve IT policies. Forty-one percent of employees are restricted from using Facebook at their job, and 35 percent are banned from using Twitter. About 28 percent can't use instant messaging. Yet 64 percent said their companies should allow social media use during work hours, particularly for work-life balance, since many of them work in a mobile environment and thus work longer hours.

About 18 percent of workers are not allowed to use employee-owned laptops or phones, while 66 percent say they should be allowed to connect to the Internet via any device and access any programs or applications they need when they need them.

Cisco's Rezai said that for many IT departments, the issue is one of security and the worry about the danger this proliferation of devices and use of social media poses to the company's network. IT professionals at times are looking for some breathing room while setting policies, she said.

"By putting a policy of -no,' they can buy time and figure out a [less restrictive] policy," Rezai said.

Ray Smets, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking business unit, said that IT departments are going to have to figure out a way to deal with today's realities, which include that far more handheld devices are being sold than traditional laptops.

"It's not about -yes' or -no' any longer," Smets said. "It's about -when.'"

Video use in the workplace also is on the rise. Sixty-eight percent of IT professionals say the use of video will rise in importance in their companies, but 41 percent of employees say they are not allowed to use video as a tool in their workplaces.

All this feeds into the vision that Cisco-and other IT vendors-have for the future workplace, an environment where workers can access the Internet from anywhere at any time and on any device. Cisco executives have a vision that in such an environment, the network becomes the platform for how business will be done.