How to Benefit from the Consumerization of IT

There was a day when IT was clearly in charge. IT chose the technologies, doled them solemnly to the various worker bees, trained the waves of turnover staff, and supported the rank and file who never, ever seemed to “get” even the simplest of computer commands. Oh, the laments. The horrors! Then along came a new terror: a workforce that came with its own gear. And, snap, in less time than it takes to refresh the PCs, IT went from king of the wired and wireless jungle to harried zoo keeper of IT escapees.

The role of zoo keeper might not be so bad if the residents would stay in their cages. But they don’t. And, they come packing attitudes, gear and social media accounts of their own making. What is a single IT department to do with that?

Many IT pros haven’t a clue. A Unisys-sponsored IDC survey of nearly 650 global IT decision-makers reveals that “their organizations frequently are not aware of what technologies their employees are using and how the technologies are being used; are providing poor IT support for consumer technologies being used by employees for business purposes; and are not integrating those consumer technologies in their enterprise.”

Harnessing havoc

The problem lies with the zoo keeper’s focus on keeping the cages clean rather than on harnessing all that brute animal power.

“The ‘consumerization of IT’ revolution is being driven not top-down by corporate IT departments, but by tech-savvy iWorkers who are hungry for information and rich with ideas on new ways to innovate, serve customers, and operate more efficiently,” said Sam Gross, vice president of Global IT Outsourcing Solutions at Unisys in a written statement. “Our research indicates that organizations have miles to go to get ready for this wave and risk being left behind as fresh competitors exploit the consumer IT tidal wave and upend old business and IT models.”

To effectively get a handle on what new gear and trends are moving into your organization, and thus be ready to manage them, it is necessary to first understand the mindset of these new millennial minions.

“New entrants into the world of business see the company they work for as their community and the user base of the systems they use in the company as a place to get help, comment on things that are happening, and make friends. Everything’s social,” said David Andersson, director of IFS Labs, the next-generation software testing facility of global enterprise software vendor IFS AB.

That drive to be social is responsible for the technologies that are now flooding your organization. In terms of millennial technology preferences essentially everything collaborative is in, anything designed to be one-on-one is out.

“What we are observing, more and more, is that asynchronous one-on-one communication such as sending an e-mail is fast becoming a thing of the past,” confirmed Andersson. Instead of following behind individual technology trends, begin anticipating which tools are likely to be adopted according to how well they lend themselves to collaboration. This will give you a strong hint as to what to prepare to govern.

The second prevailing behavior of the millennial set has to do with the way they prefer to work: Any technology that can remember stuff for the user is in; anything that requires a lot of input is out. This observation helps customize systems to fit worker style and increase adoption and compliance. Look to create or customize systems in such a way as to dramatically lessen user input and ease exporting and importing data between systems and users.

Consumer tech to watch

Leading the list is location-based social media such as Foursquare and Gowalla. These services instantly post locations employees have visited to any number of social media platforms making it easy for corporate spies to find and approach key employees or for enterprising media folk to figure out where your company is manufacturing or buying key components for a new product. Company secrets can escape to the public just from an accounting of employee travel. On the other hand, enterprises can keep tabs on employee travel the same way. Was the employee, for example, actually in that $3,000 session at a trade show, or were they at the bar around the corner?

Watch for sensor-driven user interfaces in order to leverage the capabilities of computing within the enterprise and for potential security problems. ABI Research says that “by 2013, 85% of smartphones will ship with GPS, over 50% will ship with accelerometers, and almost 50% will have gyroscopes.”

“The growth of sensors in smartphones will be driven by applications such as gaming, location awareness, and augmented reality, as well as the expansion of motion-based commands,” said ABI Senior Analyst Victoria Fodale in a written statement.

Keep an eye on evolving video technologies . Everything from iPhone’s video chatting feature to Google TV’s phone apps can be mixed blessings to the enterprise. On the one hand, video conferencing and live video collaboration will become common place. Will employees be mindful of what’s on their PC screen or the prototype lying on their desk in the background of their video call? Probably not. It’s best to start working on the policies for that now. Stay mindful that cell carriers are already overtaxed by user demands and are positioning to start billing on tiered plans. Look to see how you can lighten those costs by using dual-mode phones and requiring employees to use the WiFi mode wherever and whenever possible.

A mid- to far-term technology to watch for is the rise of the true Internet phone that will follow a proliferation of WiFi and WiMAX. Unlike cellular phones, which are hobbled by carriers, the advent of true Internet phones with computing abilities to rival PCs and projectable screens and keyboards among other new capabilities, have the potential to harm the company. On the flip side, the need for PCs will likely decrease, and many can be replaced with dumb terminals, thus potentially saving companies thousands of dollars.

Parking phenomenon

Keep an eye on automotive telemetics . ABI Research
Director Dominique Bonte said automotive telemetics and info-tainment applications are “quickly gaining momentum, with major automotive players such as Ford and Continental having announced open platforms and application stores. At the same time Nokia’s Terminal Mode and Apple’s iPod Out initiatives aim at integrating smartphones into the car environment.”

Telemetics is such a big deal on the consumer tech horizon that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) invited Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, to deliver a keynote address at the 2011 International CES in January in Las Vegas.

Before too much longer cars will be rolling WiFi hotspots and offer a plethora of ways to share information from the car. This lends a whole new set of capabilities to drive-by hackers but it also can reduce company costs on commercial hotspot accounts.

Watch those electric bills, though. With the smart grid comes the ability to charge a user’s account anywhere they use electricity. IT will have to figure out a way to track and authenticate employee charges to the company.

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker’s published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine,, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).