Consumerisation - an ugly name with a beautiful future

By any standards, consumerisation - or consumerization, if you're in the US - is an unlovely word. Even if you haven't come across it before, you'll know what it describes: the adoption by the enterprise of consumer technology.

By any standards, consumerisation - or consumerization, if you're in the US - is an unlovely word. Even if you haven't come across it before, you'll know what it describes: the adoption by the enterprise of consumer technology. By rights, it belongs to Apple - the Apple II was bought by individuals who put it on their desks at work to the considerable annoyance of the high priests of the data centres, just like the iPhone 3G is being plumbed into corporate Exchange services as fast as the early adopters can type their server URIs into that annoying little virtual keyboard. And indeed for Apple, there is only upside to the process,

For other vendors, however, the trend is worrying. How do you design technology that satisfies the complex requirements of the enterprise while competing at consumer levels of cool usefulness? On Dialogue Box, the video show I co-present with Charles McLellan, we have a segment called the Axis of Awesome where we chart enterprise IT according to how useful it is - and how cool it feels. We started that as a bit of a joke: I'm beginning to realise that it's rather more than that.

But that's nothing compared to the problems the process presents to IT professionals within the organisation. It's hard enough to maintain security, compliance and reliability standards when you define and implement everything from the keyboard to the database: when your users are collaborating via Google Docs on their HSPDA-dongled Eees, you have as much chance of keeping them in line as the Salvation Army has of closing down the pubs.

You can't beat them – so join in. The days of the enterprise IT department ruling by diktat are over – as are the days of users being passive consumers. So start treating users as part of the solution: they know what they're doing, so listen to what they say. Stop saying "We don't support that, so you're on your own"; start saying "Show me what you're up to, and let's see if we can help".

This has many benefits, not least that you'll know what's really going on and can head off dangerous practices by guidance rather than have them appear on your radar at the same time as they appear in the headlines of the MD's Financial Times. Conversely, you'll spot genuinely useful innovations early and often: your organisation suddenly becomes full of enthusiastic, engaged IT evaluators generating tons of real-life data on which planners can feast.

You'll also find yourself sorting out problems by creating new models of use and innovative solutions to new problems. In terms of equipping yourself and your team with the skills necessary to thrive in the future - possibly even creating the next big thing in enterprise IT - this is a golden opportunity.

There are huge implications in this level of cultural change – it's a genuine shift in the landscape that will leave no relationship untouched. The winners, as always, will be those who are best at throwing away old assumptions and seeing things anew. Find those people within your organisation. Become one yourself. It's an awesome prospect.

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