There are a few trends that are affecting IT in some hard hitting, demanding and, for many, (work) life changing ways. Cloud is the first obvious one, but causing more of a pain in the IT department's rear right now is probably consumerisation.
Consumerisation is a simple theory; that people want to be able to do things in the office with the same “ease” that they do at home. A couple of examples will help clarify: Jane wants to be able to search her email inbox and find the stuff she needs rather than having to file things. James wants to be able to use his iPad to get his work email – it makes it easier for him to process stuff whilst watching the telly at night. These both present problems for the traditional IT department. The email system might be out of date and iPad isn’t secure enough for your organisation's policy.
What a conundrum. What we’ve been asking the IT department to do for years is to “manage all this complicated stuff for us”. Of course, over time, some of it's become less complicated and we’ve all learnt a thing or two about working with technology, turning us all into techies. There was a time when being a techy meant being able to interact with a computer - now that’s just second nature.
This particular trend is hard for IT folks to assimilate because for years they’ve been placed in the position of being the people who would provide technology and, now it’s in abundance, it’s sometimes easier to circumvent the system just to get the job done. With that circumvention, however, comes a barrage of problems which eventually land on the poor IT manager to fix, and, obviously because it’s a problem, it’s the most urgent thing in the world. What a pain.
Seen through different eyes, though – those of the end user – things have become brilliant. No longer do you need to go begging to your IT manager for budget for a new PC - you just use your own, and as a result you no longer have to ask permission to do something, which saves you time and lets you get on with making money. It’s also pretty cool to be down the pub with your mates and pull your phone out of your pocket, then check that you haven’t had any mail since you snuck out 30 minutes early to have a beer. How cool!
So we have a situation where what’s cool for the users is a pain for the IT department, which is not so good…but the IT department is there to endure pain, isn’t it? Not in my book. There’s a better way. We’re starting to see that companies embracing consumerisation are enjoying some great benefits.
Benefit A – Happy people
Using equipment that you care about makes you care about your equipment more. Find any craftsman who cares about his work and you’ll find a rack of well-oiled, well-loved tools. In return their kit breaks less and they get more done. Allowing your end users more choice over the type of computer they use can lead them to care more for it, so that upfront investment you make in a shiny PC might result in fewer keyboard replacements, for example. Of course the ultimate end is that they may wish to purchase their own PC, and depending upon your size and type of business, that could be cheaper for you. Heck, they might even hunt more for a bargain and end up spending less.
The IT manager needs to act with one of my five imperatives, Be a guide not a gate keeper and help users make an informed decision. That might mean creating an internal site where they can “shop” for their next PC. It won’t take long before your users start to think of their kit as their own and even as an extension of themselves - a virtuous circle that might just make them happier.
They will be happier because they have choice and flexibility and fewer hoops to jump through. You’ll probably be happier as the IT manager - you get to be the good guys (as CBR says)
Benefit B – Lower costs (potentially)
That care and respect and the subsequent translation into a happy work environment will translate into lower costs as users not only care more for their kit and even hunt for better priced kit, but they stop calling IT to fix every little thing. With trust – in this case the trust to self-select – comes responsibility, and people don’t like to appear unable to handle responsibility. This doesn’t mean that they won’t need help but it may well mean that IT will get fewer calls asking “how do I…” Instead, they’ll probably turn to the Internet for help.
Embrace, Address, Block?
I think it’s going to be hard for organisations not to address consumerisation, but deciding if an organisation should embrace, address or block consumerisation is a tough call. I figure it’s going to (and in many cases already does) depend on the size of the organisation. It’s easy to see how smaller organisations will benefit from consumerisation when you consider such things as users possibly buying their own kit and paying for their own mobile data tariffs, for example, so I think we’ll see them embrace the trend very quickly.
Larger organisations will probably move to the position of addressing the trend by developing their own principles and practices to support consumerisation, but at the same time by ensuring that the organisation is safe and control remains central. User (customer) demand within their organisation is what will drive adoption of the trend, and therein lies the kernel of this trend – consumerisation is just demand-driven computing.
Many people argue that in a large organisation we might well see the provision of a “technology allowance” similar to a car allowance, giving users the opportunity to source their own kit. That’s a nice idea but anyone with a company car will know the taxation mire that this approach causes, and I think it’ll be years before the tax man catches up with the trend.
What we see day-in-day out is that it’s very hard for an organisation to throw away its old ways; there are just too many business reasons to not to do so. So how do you stick on the side of your users, not blocking them but retaining some control? You need to move to an operational model that allows you to address consumerisation, embrace it, extend access to consumerised devices and services, yet protect business interests – add value.
Here’s a little recipe of ideas that might help IT pros up against the wall with consumerisation:
You have a web-based HR portal and you’re concerned about the security of other browsers: Use a system like ForeFront Unfied Access Gateway to read the browser header and allow access only on devices with trusted browsers, directing other users to instructions for accessing the system.
You have a need to provide access to your productivity applications on a multitude of devices but don’t want the data to end up on those devices: Deploy RDS and provide remote desktop sessions or virtual desktops to those users, there are solutions from the likes of Citrix to help with that.
You’ve got a hot desk environment where users can use their own laptops but there are ground level windows and you don’t want passers-by snooping on people sat with monitors facing the window: There’s a solution from Quest that can help address that by being location-aware and allowing access to RD sessions from only specific locations.
There are loads of options depending on what you need to do, and large organisations will love the added flexibility that the consumerised approach gives them. What’s clear from commentary in places like CIO.com is that consumerisation needs to be managed (at least in large orgs).
If this has got you more interested in the consumerisation debate, there's an event coming up later in July that should be in your diary. Hosted by Play.com, the event's theme is 'How is service-oriented architecture changing to deal with an increasingly complex, multi-channel world?' Our very own Simon Ince is one of the speakers. You'll get the chance to network and find out how other large organisations are addressing this challenge, happily fuelled by drinks and pizza. Here's the agenda:
Play.com’s Cambridge Office, 14 July 2011
For more information, contact the event's organisers: firstname.lastname@example.org/ +44 20 7333 1825.
[foot note: I use consumerisation without a Z because I use British English]