Time to Embrace the Consumerization of IT

Five years ago Gartner said the biggest trend affecting IT would be the consumerization of technology into IT; essentially, the development of technologies for the consumer market that find their way into the enterprise.

In the last five years, quite a bit has happened. We’ve seen one of the worst recessions this country has ever experienced with a 400 percent greater impact on GDP than the depression of the 1930’s. During the recession period, companies had to make very tough decisions in regards to personnel, assets, projects and initiatives. People were let go and projects were put on hold. We entered a period of stasis.

As we emerge out of the Great Recession, we are entering a period where companies are the most cash-rich they have been in the history of this country. U.S. companies alone are sitting on nearly $1 trillion in cash. But this doesn’t mean spending will return to pre-recession days. Companies are still hedging their bets and being very cautious with their spending.

Apple et al.

So how does this impact the consumerization of IT that Gartner predicted would be a major trend right about now? Well, it’s actually helped accelerate this trend. While the consumerization of IT introduces some inherent risks, it also presents some compelling money-saving measures that are hard to ignore. The challenge for many companies will be finding the right mix of corporate approved products and services and – uncovering — those that are part of a shadow world of stealth IT.

Employees are asked to do more and to do it more quickly. With this mandate, many are turning to any resource they can make use of outside the corporate network. Personal and business are being blended in the mobile phone, for example, so the personal phone will likely have business data on it as well.

The reality is that the consumerization of IT is very real and legitimate. It’s here to stay and companies need to address this phenomenon whether they want to or not. There are certainly right ways and wrong ways to go about it, but there are some key drivers to know about and some suggestions to manage consumerization as it happens in your organization.

Key drivers

Mobility. Mobility is really the game changer when it comes to the consumerization of IT. One misconception we need to dispel right away is that mobility is about technology. It is not. Mobility is a cultural issue that is far more ingrained in both our personal and business lives than we might care to acknowledge, so it’s important that companies approach this issue as a cultural phenomenon rather than a technology phenomenon.

The price points for mobile smart phones, laptops and cloud computing services are dropping significantly, to the point where departments and individuals can make quick decisions about whether to purchase the service or product in question without corporate approval (reimbursements are another issues we’ll touch on a little later).

Laptops. Laptops, for the most part, started the mobility trend. Laptops untethered the office worker from the physical office and allowed her to stay connected to the corporate network. Telecommuting became an important part of the everyday work life as more and more folks worked from home, worked from coffee shops, etc.

Today, working from a mobile location is the norm. But laptops today come in many sizes and flavors, and many people have particular preferences about laptops they use. Some have personal laptops they prefer to keep using when beginning a job and would just as soon make that personal laptop their business laptop.

One Fortune 500 company is actually realizing the value of allowing their employees to use the technology they want to use if it will make them more productive. They provide an allowance for computers and let the individual make up the difference if they want to upgrade. Especially for the Gen X crowd that is beginning to emerge into leadership roles and Gen Y that is entering the workforce, this is very appealing.

Smartphones. Smartphones are becoming, well, smarter. They are mini computers that we carry with us anywhere and have certainly accelerated our ability to work in a very mobile fashion. Most everyone in the business world is buying an iPhone, an Android phone or something similar.

Many want to be able to receive their work e-mail on their new phones. If this isn’t allowed, some will forward their business e-mail to their personal e-mail address so they can read work documents on the go. In the process, circumventing the system to use the technology they want to use — in the way they want to use it.

Cloud computing. Cloud computing is the third part of the triumvirate that is accelerating the consumerization of IT. And since cloud services are accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection it lends itself well to mobility.

Cloud computing services and platforms are becoming so inexpensive, so ubiquitous and increasing in security that it’s difficult for companies of any size to completely ignore the possibility of using cloud services. I guarantee you that nearly every large enterprise out there, whether they know it or not, has a department or individual using some cloud service to get their work done. It’s cheap and fast. For example, a department that needs to do rapid application development can’t wait for IT to put a server in. The department is willing to go out and purchase server time, CPU time, storage time, etc. to ensure the project gets completed as quickly as possible without having to wait for approval of a server.

So where is this playing out? Actually, it’s playing out across the board – small business, mid-size organizations and large enterprises, but it’s having the most impact at the large enterprise level. For the most part, small businesses will adopt smart phones or a cloud computing service (such as e-mail, VoIP and file storage services) across the entire organization. Mid-size businesses tend to follow a similar pattern – corporate adoption or nothing. It’s at the enterprise level where the most variety occurs. Enterprise organizations are slower to fully embrace or adopt disruptive shifts such as these across the entire company, so you will see a larger variety of consumerization models in larger companies. There will be pockets of mobility, laptops, cloud services, etc.


Inevitably, the issue of policy arises. How do we control these shadow projects and shadow IT? Do we reimburse? Do we not reimburse? Do we embrace this consumerization and let it happen? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as “Yes, let it happen willy nilly” or “Absolutely not. That will never happen in my enterprise.” The key to a successful policy is to:

Acknowledge this shift is happening. The reality is that employees and departments in larger enterprise are doing this — and oftentimes for very legitimate business reasons that are helping projects stay on time and on budget.

Define how shadow projects can and should fit into your overall business strategy (not just IT strategy). Or if there is no fit whatsoever.

Communicate the policy very clearly. I’ll say that again. Communicate the policy very clearly. As part of your communications you want to educate. If there is a real security issue that is at hand then educate senior managers or employees as appropriate about it. Re-evaluate and adjust your strategies and policies on a regular basis.

This trend will continue to evolve. Enterprises are looking to make this move because it involves less capital and labor investment. And, while the support impacts of this new model are not fully understood it seems safe to say that the corporate savings will be sufficient to move forward with these models even with an uptick in support costs.

Bringing more than fifteen years of senior executive experience in IT management, strategy development, operations optimization, mergers and acquisitions integration, divestiture planning, new business launch and startup operations, organization design, change management, and program management, Scott Archibald has one of the most diverse backgrounds in Bender Consulting. Moreover, he’s had nearly two decades of leadership experience in the high-tech industry in information technology, services, procurement, and operations roles.