Consumerization of IT Comes to the Enterprise

Do people use their smartphones at work? That’s an example of the consumerization of IT. Does the company recruit employees or interact with customers through social media like Facebook? More consumerization of IT. How about invoicing and payment or procurement through cloud-based exchanges like Ariba? Same thing.

A Unisys study two years ago hinted at the consumerization of IT in the business. An online poll of more than 500 enterprise information workers showed a majority prefer using their own PC or a hosted virtual desktop to do their work and to access information resources. Only a minority continues to subscribe to the traditional model of using a PC provided and managed by their company.

 A more recent Unisys study in conjunction with IDC dubbed this trend Consumer-Powered IT, and already it is turning the traditional IT business model on its head. Unisys expects it will transform organizations over the next 3-5 years while bringing in a new wave of business productivity. The question become if and how IT should respond to this trend. Ignoring it, a favorite IT strategy of the past hasn’t worked then and won’t work now.

Last year Unisys described the consumerization of IT as “perhaps the most radical transformation sweeping the technology landscape and enterprise IT.” BottomlineIT wouldn’t go quite that far—early personal computers running a spreadsheet called VisiCalc (1979) drove modern desktop computing into the enterprise, which proved to be pretty radical at the time. The PC running VisiCalc might have been the first example of consumer-inspired IT.

By the mid 1980s workers expected arrive at work on their first day to find the company provided and supported desktop computer. Now workers are showing up with their own apps running on their own devices; a smartphone, iPad, or other tablet devices. They handle their own email, messaging, and social networking through their devices, and they expect their employer to let them connect to the corporate network as well. They expect to add their work apps to the personal apps already residing on their preferred device.

This represents a stunning turnaround. The organization, in effect, has lost control of its technology strategy.  Such consumer-powered IT, as Unisys notes, exposes a troubling gap between the activities and expectations of these workers and their employers’ abilities to manage, secure, and support what amounts to a blurring of personal and business communications and compute activity. The upside: greater productivity through new ways of connecting and collaborating and increased competitiveness through the workplace innovation that invariably follows.

The downside is loss of control and a need for new ways to reassert control. The IT group will need to interface with and support this disparate collection of devices. The company also needs to devise a layered security strategy and redefine its governance policies to encompass these new and varied ways of working so compliance mandates can be met. An investment in new management tools is likely.

When handled right, the consumerization of IT can spur valuable innovation. Take two newly hired workers who encountered a problem when inspecting a facility, pulled out a smartphone, snapped some photos, and emailed them to the appropriate people along with brief explanatory text. Suddenly the new hires had demonstrated how to streamline a vexing business process and bypassed tons of paperwork.

The Internet, the World Wide Web, Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Skype, even the cloud have been driven by consumers. It will become the way your organization receives and delivers services in the future. Start preparing now for the new connected smartphone, tablet, swipe-and-tap world of business computing.

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