Consumerization: The New Colossus

Consumerization: The New Colossus

Summary: Consumerization drives IT people crazy but it's also driving the brave new world of bring your own device. Join the revolution or get left behind.


Welcome to the new Consumerization blog here on ZDNet, I'm your host, Ken Hess. Consumerization, in case you're not familiar with this new buzz term, is the new trend of what's known as consumer-driven IT. The trend is part of the new revolution in companies where individuals use their own technology at work. Laptops, netbooks, tablets and phones provide the bulk of the new hardware creeping through front doors of businesses all over the country, and perhaps, all over the world.

Some of us call this phenomenon, BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. But, it doesn't matter what you or I call it--it's a trend that's sweeping through an entire workforce. And, best of all, it covers all ages, skill levels and company sizes, although the larger the company the greater the pain of transition seems to be.

Personally, I love this trend and here's why: Employees are more productive when they're comfortable with the technology they use.

And, the concept isn't all that new, if you think about it. For decades, companies have hired ad hoc or contract workers who bring their own tools to the job. That, in fact, is one of the definitions that separates contract workers from employees in the United States.

One offshoot of Consumerization might be that companies will decide to reclassify some or most of their workers as independent contractors. It's less expensive (taxes, benefits, vacation, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave) for the company but the lack of direct control might have a negative effect on overall productivity.

Companies that embrace Consumerization will find that their employees are more productive, are happier and are more willing to innovate. For example, workers who want to further increase productivity will produce Apps that not only increase their productivity but possibly can be commercialized and sold by the company.

Consumerization of IT also brings about the usual bandy of security talk. Security is the primary stumbling block to any innovative or popular idea. It's the single topic that can stop any worthwhile pursuit cold in its tracks. I believe, though, that companies like VMware, Citrix and Red Hat will provide the necessary security through mobile hypervisor profiles.

For example, on your iPad, you'll have one profile for work, one for personal and possibly one for the kids. No two profiles can mix because they're essentially virtual machines that run on a hypervisor directly on your iPad. Now, your iPad is three iPads: One for work, one for personal use and one for the kids. All on a single device. The same concept works for phones, laptops, netbooks and ultrabooks.

Don't allow fear, uncertainty and doubt ruin your transition to this worker revolution. It is revolution and not rebellion. It is also an evolution of thought and of action.

Consumerization is the new Colossus, the new liberty and the brave new world of IT. Embrace the future.

What are your concerns with Consumerization? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, IT Employment


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Security & Domains

    You touch on part of the problem: Security. But you miss out on things, like professional software, licensing and domain membership.

    Firstly, I like the idea on one level. I know, I always had better kit at home than at work, in fact, at one site, it was actually quicker to back up the OLAP database to cartridge, drive an hour back home, restore it on my machine, recalculate it, back it up to cartridge and drive back to the office, than to use the company's server infrastructure to do the calculation!

    However, there are problems, when a company allows non-company equipment onto their network, these include security issues and legal issues.

    Security is the obvious one, can you guarantee that each user who brings their own laptop to work has up-to-date anti virus software, especially Mac owners. The Mac owners will argue, that the Mac isn't susceptible to a vast majority of viruses, and they would be right, but that doesn't mean that can't act as a conduit for passing a virus on to a customer, partner or onto the internal network; for which the employer would be responsible for the damages caused to the customer / partner.

    Secondly, there is the issue of software. Does the employer provide the software? Probably not, but they then have to ensure that the software the employee is using on their premises is properly licensed - again, a spot audit could leave the employer footing the bill for the employees collection of pirated software.

    Domain membership: Most home users buy machines with Windows 7 Home on them, to use the machines at work, they would need Professional or Ultimate, in order to be able to connect to the domain and access their data and email. What about domain policies? You can't force them on somebody's private machine.

    Data security: people copying company data and walking off site with it is, or was a major problem. With Internet services like Dropbox springing up, the need for physical media is reduced, making it harder on employers to ensure data doesn't leave the building, but if the employee is running round with local copies of the company's data on private machines, that could cause the employer a major headache with the authorities, when it comes to keeping track of personal data and ensuring that it doesn't get misused or abused - we have enough problems with business laptops being left in taxis, airports and bars, without the employer having to worry about every single worker in the company taking employee and customer information home with them every night! It might be good for disaster management, but it is a legal headache for the company.

    I would be very interested to hear, how such topics should be addressed - one of my current roles is compliance officer for my employer and I do like the idea of bring your own kit, but I see more headaches than solutions at the moment.
    • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

      You have listed valid concerns, but business should be able to learn and adapt to the use of new technologies in the enterprise. If business falls back on total control of everything in the IT space, they will limit the technologies available to the users and that will create technology stagnation.
      Business should always be looking for ways to enable new technologies, VDI, virtualization, remote desktops, mobile, tablets, pads, etc.

      Beyond that, business should be looking seriously at the software licensing models they allow into the enterprise. Overly restrictive EULAs, and service agreements tend to create risk in themselves as to their toxic effect on the choice of other, more open technologies. This effect can hinder business and prevent innovation. Business can paint itself into a proverbial corner with the acceptance of restrictive software licensing such as can be found in some of the proprietary software licensing required today by some vendors. If they have already agreed to toxic EULAs and service models, they need to find a way out of that mess. Business should generally consider use of software with more open licensing models and begin to severely limit use of restrictive technologies that have a viral effect on the open choice and free use of technologies in the enterprise. For example, consider the use of free and open source software with the unrestricted freedoms in use that go along with it. A business running on GPL software will, by definition, have no software licensing issues for that software, because GPL permits unrestricted use of software. Bottom line is; What are you giving up by the vendor agreements you have and will make and how will this effect technology decisions moving forward--don't paint yourself into a stagnant corner.

      Data security is important of course, nobody should be carrying employee and customer data around with them, indirect remote desktop access may help prevent this. Consider also that if you can not trust your employees, there will be very little you can do to safeguard the data they have access to so don't provide them bulk access to raw data, only in snippets if you must--with access logs in place.
      • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

        @kzahorec@... We use Windows Terminals for 90% of our staff, which is more than enough for them.

        We don't have WiFi, but there again, our programmers don't have any private tablet devices (yet).

        The biggest problem is the legal situation (we are liable if an employee inadvertently puts a virus on a custome's machine, and we have VPNs to most customers for maintenance, so the risk is high.

        The bigger customers also have us sign a document saying that all machines attached to our network and having access to the customers network are virus free and have an current and updated AV scanner running.

        Those sorts of things are harder to guarantee, if users can bring in their own kit. At the moment, they have to submit kit to the IT department to check out, before they can plug it into the network.
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    You bring up some very good points, however, the solution is to have profiles like I described where the employer could deploy corporate software. Profiles, which are virtual machines, can't be run at the same time (at least for now) and remain isolated from each other. This solves software, domain and security issues for the employer.
    • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus


      That is assuming said company is willing to invest in the technology to provide that type of function. What we have seen is while we LOVE the concept of Citrix / VM Views, users want a native experience.
    • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

      @khess Profiles are not "virtual machines". Since IOS doesn't support profiles, who buys and supports the third-party profile software? Who is responsible for licensing issues? Profiles don't bypass the problem, your reply was simplistic.
      • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

        A profile would be a VM on a mobile hypervisor. The company would have ultimate responsibility for licensing for the corporate VM (profile).
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    Great topic Ken. You are right that consumerization of IT and BYOD aren't new phenomenons. For years, individuals workers and teams have been using consumer email and instant messaging and other online apps for better extended enterprise communication and collaboration with peers, partners and customers. Contractors have often been asked to use their own machines to do their work. However, there are several significant differences that should raise the level of concern about today's trends including their:
    1) Wide scale. Today's BYOD trend extending to an entire workforce wanting to choose their own tools is becoming the rule. It is no longer a limited number of contractors or road warriors as the exceptions who want to connect non-standard equipment to corporate networks using IT-mandated access methods.
    2) Deep sophisticated access. Today's smartphones and tablets with browsers and native apps are capable of viewing, uploading, and changing content on nearly all corporate systems and websites. It is no longer mainly just corporate email and calendaring systems that are being accessed through the more controllable store-and-forward message transport.
    3) Open disposable designs. Today's BYOD devices are relatively low cost devices that are designed to be used for 1-2 years and then replaced with the latest technology. Combined with their small size and wireless operation that enables them to be used almost anywhere, the fact that they belong to the users and are easily replaced results in these devices being lost or stolen along with corporate information and access. The consumer-orientation of most smartphones and tables means that security is limited by design and turned off by default. Vendos have only recently released business-class software and services to wrap consumer devices with anti-malware protection and other security measures.
    Looking forward to lots of good conversations on the blog.
    Mark Levitt
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    1. I will not mix work and personal business on the same system. EVER.
    2. I will not pay for nor maintain a personal system for work use. EVER.
    3. I will not support a personal system for work use for someone else. EVER.

    The only benefit of BYOD (anyone else notice how close to BSOD that is?) is to the company: fewer assets, so better ROI; "Selling" employees to outsourcing firms; closing facilities. Here's a thought: Companies will find their employees happier and more productive when they stop screwing them. But that will never happen because good employees cost money.

    And one issue nobody ever mentions with BYOD is harassment policies. If it is a personal system, then the owner can rightfully place offensive materials on it. Want to take bets on when BYOD starts to die off due to companies finding themselves liable for content on personally owned systems?
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus


    Excellent topic and very timely. There are a couple of items I think are important to consider. Consumerization has an aspect that is not strictly related to BYOD and has to do with the quality of the user experience. Native mobile devices and applications together with other influences on consumer experiences such as online games are changing users' basic expectations regarding their interactions with technology. Enterprise applications, especially as they get more and more exposed to these type of devices will need to enhance that experience substantially or look very dated fast.

    The second issue is regarding security. We are finding that our practical experience with customers is different from the theoretical approach about all the areas that one should consider to secure all corporate applications and data. Our customers are taking a much more gradual approach in which they bring more and more private content to BYOD devices as they become more comfortable with the devices themselves and the services that provide different layers of security. BYOD devices and consumerization can make a real difference in productivity and teamwork even when not all secure content is yet provided in them by the administrators. Not all applications are equally critical nor all data requires the same level of guaranteed protection, and organizations are finding sweet spots for BYOD devices today and will expand their use from there.
    Carlos Montero-Luque
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    Want to know how easy it is to stop people bring in their device to work?

    Just tell them, "You know, your corporate emails are company's properties. If you want to connect your devices with us it will be provisioned as per our Device and Acceptable Use Policy. In case you don't know what that means, it means if you're leaving the company your device will be wiped clean along with all your private data and apps..."

    If that didn't give them a second thought, nothing will.

    Mind you, we're doing it not because we're evil and malicious but we do have regulations to follow. Until mobile device virtualization is readily, consumerization is not happening.
    • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

      @Samic This is all part of the Google Apps approval process for mobile devices, and I don't think anyone would willfully submit to snooping / remote wiping of their personal device without their permission.
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    We in IT are in the automation business right? I find these conversations fun to have. If you can describe the things that need to be present in order to define what a 'secure device' looks like, then allow that process to be automated, and better yet, to deliver on the promise of BYOD, or Consumerization allow it to be self service. I talk about how Apple manages its DRM all the time as a model. They don't tell you what five devices you can have, they simply allow you to register your five devices, you then manage it from there. So why not provide that same type of registration process for the enterprise, and then walk the end user through what they need to do, to make this device safe for your network. Of course that definition of safe will vary from business to business.

    People often times want a silver bullet, but just like managing the desktop was not done with a single management tool, nor will the new world of multiple types of mobile devices. The challenge is to take a blue print for what your BYOD environment might look like, including security, as you mention and lay out a comprehensive plan of attack for the future strategy. The scope of this new strategy though has tentacles that go beyond the desktop team anymore, and needs to involve the application owners, network team, security, desktop and virtually everyone in IT.

    Great conversation to have in any case, as people start to get serious about what started with just smartphones, five years ago or personal laptops for the past 10 years.
  • RE: Consumerization: The New Colossus

    I do agree with @aep528 in some cases. Also agree with many of the other comments, concerns and hurrahs. On my blog I'm writing a 3 step story about BYOD where I've published step 1 and 2. I'm really not so in to BYO, I really can't see the point and it will cause an administrative mess. Though my biggest concern is, which my step 3 will be about; when the possibility becomes a demand.

    The demand might be a consequence of @aep528's company benefits. What will happen when companies demand you to BYO? I think as Ken say independent contractors will increase and as a dramatic consequence a personal "gold" service agreement attached to your device might be the key to keep your employment or not. And I think this will be a bigger problem than we might think. Why? There are a lot of employers who always try to use laws and systems at a maximum and with a mind set of ???is there a possibility ??? use it???. In Sweden, where I live, there are rigorous rules of how and when you can fire somebody but firing will be easier if having independent contractors. And this will cause disorder in the society. No, I don???t mean BYOD will turn all things upside down but it will make people upset.

    Also consider there are a lot of groups who never will afford bring their own. As I say in my part 2 I think BYOD is a possibility for ???the cool guys???.

    The future employers have to be attractive to attract good people. One way is to allow BYO. But if I was a good prospect to employee I would say ???please give me the device??? instead of asking ???can I bring my own????

    @maxbuchler + inmaxmind[dot]com