Mind the Gap: The Consumerization of IT Innovation
The landscape of IT innovation is changing.
“Back in the day” (said in my gravelly old-man voice from my Barcalounger wearing my red Netware t-shirt) companies developing new technology solutions brought them to the enterprise and marketed them to the IT management stack. CIOs, CTOs and IT directors were the injection point for technology acceptance into the business. Now, that injection point has been turned into a fire hose.
Think about many of the technologies we have to consider as we develop our enterprise architectures: tablets, smartphones, cloud computing, application stores, and file synchronization. Because our users and clients are consuming these technologies today outside of IT, we need to be aware of what they are using, how they are using it, and what bunker-buster is likely to be dropped into our lap next.
Sure, you can argue that “tablets” had been around for a number of years prior to the release of the iPad in 2010. Apple’s own Newton Message Pad in 1993 is often the first device defined as a computing tablet. HP, IBM and others developed “tablets” going back to 2000 based on the Microsoft Tablet PC specification. These did gain some traction in certain industries (construction/architecture, medical).
However, these were primarily converted laptops with minimally innovative capabilities that failed to gain mass adoption. With the iPad, Apple demonstrated the concept of consumerization of innovation by developing the platform to the needs of the consumer market first, addressing the reasons why people would use a computing tablet instead of just pounding current corporate technology into a new shape.
Now, IT has to deal with mass iPad usage by their users and customers.
Similarly, cloud services have been used in the consumer market for over a decade. It can be stated that many of the services users consume outside of the enterprise are cloud services (iTunes, Dropbox, Skype, Pandora, social networking, etc). As a consumer of these services, the user gains functionality that is not always available from the enterprises they work for. They can select, download and install applications that address their specific needs (self-service anyone?). They can share files with others around the globe. They can select the type of content they consume and how they communicate with others via streaming audio, video and news feeds. And don’t get me started on Twitter.
And this is the gap IT needs to close.
We have tried to show our user population and our business owners the deficiencies in these technologies in terms of security, availability, service levels, management and other great IT industry “talk to the hand” terminology. We’ve turned blue in the face and stamped our feet like a 2-year-old in the candy isle. But has that stopped the pressure to adopt and enable these technologies within the enterprise? Remember, our business owners are consumers too.
IT needs to give a little here to maintain a modicum of control over the consumption of these technologies. The tech companies will continue to market to the masses (wouldn’t you?) as long as that mass market continues to consume. And we, as IT people, will continue to face that mounting pressure and have to answer the question: “Why can’t we do that?” The net is that the pendulum of innovation is now swinging to the consumer side of the fulcrum. IT is reacting to technology instead of introducing it.
To close this gap, we need to develop ways of saying “yes” without compromising our policies and standards, and do it efficiently. Is there a magic bullet here? No. But we have to recognize the inevitable and start moving toward the light.
My best advice today is to be open-minded to what users are asking for. Expand your acceptance of user-initiated technology requests (many of them may be great ways to solve long term issues). Become an enabler instead of a CI –“no”. Adjust your perspectives to allow for flexibility in your control processes, tools and metrics. And, most important of all, become a consumer of the consumer innovations. Knowledge is power, and experience is the best teacher we have.
Geoff Smith has more than 20 years of experience working in all verticals and markets, from the SMB to the enterprise, focusing on the application of IT solutions that enable businesses to achieve their goals. As a Senior Solutions Architect for GreenPages, where he contributes to the journey to the cloud blog, Geoff is focused on managed services, server virtualization, and Microsoft and Citrix solutions.