Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, IBM was as American as apple pie and dominated the IT landscape. Their brand was above reproach and managers lived by the mantra “you can’t get fired for buying IBM.”
Today it’s a different story entirely: maybe not for the IT department but for most users, enterprise IT is an afterthought at best. Apple is the most valuable company in the US and its consumer market peers such as Google and Facebook are on the tip of everyone’s tongues and the topic of Hollywood movies. As for IBM? No disrespect to Watson, but we don’t see IBM or enterprise computing discussed at many cocktail parties. So what happened?
To understand the trend towards the Consumerization of IT we need to hearken back to that first year economics lecture on “economies of scale” where we learned about the cost advantage that accrues to a firm when their unit cost declines as volumes increase.
how does IT respond to end users questioning why it takes weeks or months to get a new business intelligence report when (for example) Google Analytics offers out-of-the-box, real-time, self-service access to reporting?
In the early years of the computer revolution new technologies were offered initially to very large customers such as government, banks and phone companies. As volumes went up costs came down and some of those technologies trickled down to small business and eventually consumers.
Today in 2011 we live in an entirely different world. The immense leverage enabled by PC’s, Cellphones, Tablets and the internet let a new roster of companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook launch IT products to consumers at immense scale with lower costs. Every year we have access to a new device or software upgrade that tends to make our devices faster and our lives easier. And with each consumer device upgrade, the “corporate standard” PC at the office can look worse and worse by comparison.
Consumerization has driven down the cost of technology and increased the sophistication and expectations of IT users, so it’s no wonder that many employees are bypassing the IT helpdesk entirely and opting for a bring your own device (BYOD) workplace. On the other hand, IT managers have concerns about security, manageability, data privacy, employee support, regulatory compliance and interoperability—and legitimately so. In practice, IT departments are expected to support not only approved devices, but also help with configuring and securing the iPhones and Androids brought in from home. How IT departments balance the combined opportunities and challenges presented by consumerization of technology will determine their success for the foreseeable future.
This debate is especially fiery in healthcare: If healthcare professionals can provide better and faster care using their own devices, how should IT work to enable them while keeping electronic health records secure and up-to-date?
What about financial services? As analysts and bankers continuously upgrade their BlackBerrys (or alternatives) in favour of that new new thing, how will Basel II, Sarbanes–Oxley, and Dodd–Frank be implemented across these new devices?
From telecommunications IT personnel to call centre customer service representatives, many employees are using the chat features built into Facebook and Gmail to talk to one another, bypassing corporate systems to share insights. Are behaviours like these bugs or features?
Finally, how does IT respond to end users questioning why it takes weeks or months to get a new business intelligence report when (for example) Google Analytics offers out-of-the-box, real-time, self-service access to reporting?
The answer to all of these questions is balance. User expectations have been raised by the almost magical capabilities of new consumer IT systems, but there are legitimate enterprise concern for security, manageability, privacy and so on. The reality is that if an employee can solve a tech problem on their own—often for free—with ease, they’re probably going to bypass IT to do it. Is this desirable or does this open up the firm to financial and other risks? IT needs to get out ahead of these questions and have a clear position.
IT departments need to be proactive about supporting and securing the consumer devices of the employees they support. After all, our doctor may want the latest iPad, but we’re not prepared to negotiate on the security of our health records. It’s up to IT to bridge that gulf and keep everyone happy.