Consumerization of tech: The new enterprise disruptor

Consumerization of tech: The new enterprise disruptor

Summary: We hear it all the time now, the drumbeat of consumerization. But what makes it different than tech revolutions of the past? It turns out, it's those very differences that make it more liable to forever change how we acquire and use information technology in the enterprise.


Our IT organizations will either be a primary enabler of this phenomenon and learn to manage and govern it, or they will be largely pushed out of the way and marginalized. One trend has emerged with clarity from the discussions this year about the tidal wave of consumer tech moving into the enterprise: It's profoundly reshaping the IT landscape in most organizations. Just a year ago, Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) was barely on the strategic radar, yet a recent CDW survey of the federal government shows that as of last month, nearly half (44%) of federal employees now use a personal device for work purposes and that 62% of agencies now permit the use of worker provided devices.

Yet this is government, which actually tends to be a bit more conservative than the IT industry in general, though consequently it's a good indicator of the change as a whole. In fact, consumerization is further along than that, at least broadly measured from a device perspective. Though data are still emerging about the trend in all industries, the early numbers in the private sector are even more dramatic, with a new report from Harris Interactive claiming that 81% of firms have already adopted some form of BYOD policy. Another recent data point shows that half of workers are even willing to foot the bill if they can only bring their own devices.

But consumerization is not just about devices or user supplied technology like Web and mobile applications. It's not even directly about social media, app stores in the workplace, or extreme ease-of-use, even though all of these feature prominently in what I call the CoIT phenomenon. Instead, it's about a new mindset.

This new mindset around IT is one where users tend to lead the IT charge. Not always, but increasingly so. They have frequently occurring technology needs on the ground. They also have the resources, time, and urgency to find the technology, or least more than the IT department does. So part of the consumerization story is a pull model of easy-to-access IT. Most of the time, it's what they find in their browsers or app stores and on the shelf at their local mobile store or online electronics retailer.

Related: Consumerization in 2012: Cloud and mobile blurs into other people's IT

But consumerization is just as much about about IT abundance these days. Perhaps the term super abundance isn't inappropriate here. While there's little question that the iPad was the first consumer technology that workers at all levels began to demand support for in a way that was not possible to ignore in most companies, it really is just part of a vast cloud of new options that have genuine disruptive potential to a degree that, for lack of a more accurate phrase, is very disquieting to IT managers, IT architecture/governance teams, and IT security staff everywhere.

Consumer tech's disruptive tendencies

Consumer IT is disruptive to the enterprise because of several key factors that are inherent to its nature and why it's often qualitatively different from the mini computer and PC revolutions of 70s and 80s:

  • Endless variety and choice. Unlike what the IT department is prepared to offer, the consumer world has literally millions of options when it comes to apps. The implication is that there's almost always an app to solve a given problem. There are hundreds of types of smart devices to choose from. Never before in history has there been an abundance of such IT choice. Such solutions are now becoming easier and easier to find all the time because of app stores and online retailers, which also have workable quality control through features such as user ratings and recommendations. App stores and peer reviews also make consumer IT sources more informed than they have in the past. The app store gateway also ensures a level of safety and assurance that wasn't there in the past.
  • Almost zero barrier to acquire. One button click in an app store or a handful of fields in a Web app will get you access. Increasingly, robust data import options -- even though they give the security team nightmares -- make it easy to get your information into consumer apps, further lowering onboard cost. A few minutes research and clicking versus going through the maze of internal IT acquisition makes consumer IT extremely appealing in comparison. It's also one reason I'm bullish on enterprise app stores as a means of combating this as necessary, though this will take years for many organizations to deal with.
  • Low cost, approaching free. While some of the better hosted, off-premises SaaS enterprise software can have a hefty price compared to consumer apps, it's nearly always cheaper than on-premises, often by a wide margin. But it's the consumer apps that are useful for business that are often the biggest draw for so-called shadow IT, because they are essentially free. Apps like DropBox and Evernote, though excellent examples of consumer apps that are extremely popular with business users, are just the tip of the iceberg, given that there are more than 550,000 apps alone in Apple's App Store.
  • Easiest to use. That the user experience for consumer IT, because it must succeed continuously to acquire and then retain its users, is consistently much better than enterprise applications probably comes as little surprise now. The use of traditional enterprise IT solutions is typically decided once and then mandated for use and infrequently revisited thereafter. In the end, usability is not nearly as important to the standard enterprise IT selection process, even though it is to the users themselves. Consumer IT wins the hearts and minds battle here because it's optimized for the most important point of use: the human experience.
  • More advanced and innovative. The capability gap between consumer and enterprise is widening as thousands of developers race to take advantage of location, touch interfaces, augmented reality, in-hand OCR, gameification, voice input, video/audio integration, near-field communication (NFC), and much more that new consumer devices make easy and possible, but that enterprise vendors are taking a great deal of time to even consider, much less put on their roadmaps. In fact, traditional enterprise vendors, with only a few notable exceptions, are turning out relatively uninspired mobile versions of their apps and generally not taking advantage of the intrinsic power and innovation inherent in iOS and Android platforms and compatible devices. Aside from devices, social media, big data, and other consumer trends are also not making their way into enterprises nearly as fast as they are being adopted by consumers.

What does all of this mean? It creates a widening chasm between what's readily possible and what centrally managed organizations can achieve on their own. I've been arguing for decentralization of IT for some years now but I didn't quite expect it to take this turn, in that I expected IT leaders to see the writing on the wall and actively create programs to move IT selection and innovation closer to the ground, so that more choice and options were available. I'm now seeing that the consumerization tidal wave is actually being actively disruptive to IT, who is largely going along with it because they can't stop it. In fact, many of the global CIOs I've been recently speaking with tell me they actively feel they are losing control.

Giving Up Isn't An Option

A new set of CoIT predictions over the weekend on TechCrunch by Uzi Shmilovici observed that we should expect a new class of enterprise software that not only embodies but specifically takes advantage of these trends. That the advancements will come from increasingly consumer-oriented companies I believe is correct, but it largely won't (and really, logistically can't) come from the IT department in its current form. His other prediction I think is even more transformative, that there is a dramatic shift in discovery channels taking place. In other words, even though CoIT in some form, is nearly 1/3 of our IT already, the revolution hasn't even happened yet because the flood gates are still a long way from fully open.

Related: Ten strategies for making the "Big Leap" to next-gen mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data

In my opening keynote at IDG's consumerization conference last Monday, I advised IT managers to get ready for 10x-100x more IT in the next couple of years. I believe our IT organizations will either be a primary enabler of this phenomenon and learn to manage and govern it, or they will be largely pushed out of the way and marginalized. However, for the long term benefit of the organization, I truly believe there is one major chance (outside of our core transaction systems, which have a longer life) for IT to learn to live and co-exist productively in this CoIT world. I don't think giving up is a legitimate option, particularly as the legal and regulatory shoe is sure to fall as this trend continues.

How is consumerization affecting your organization? Are people using the devices and apps and not telling anyone, or is IT starting to facilitate the process?

Topics: Consumerization, Apps

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  • Personal devices is the medium for Everywhere and Now

    I agreed with Dion.
    Inspiration, or light-bulb in the head happens anytime-anywhere.
  • The issue with IT is they are obstructionist.

    Their goal is to minimize the amount of work you can do on computers. Sad but true.
    • A little unfair, but that's certainly what it can feel like

      The goal is to control IT in a constructive way, but often it leads to overcontrol. And overcontrol leads to loss of control. It's a tricky balancing act in the end and one that IT must get right quickly.
    • Background in IT

      There is a lot going on in the background in IT. New hardware has to be tested to make sure that it is cost efficient to the company. Software has to be tested against core applications to make sure that there are no conflicts with the OS or other applications.

      It is a tricky balance to have a useful variety of applications and good hardware vs consumer apps and the wide variety of hardware. While this slows adaption of new tech it also helps maintain stability and managability. A new piece of hardware that is incompatible with older hardware can tie up a tech much longer than a stable of known hardware. Hardware and software are constantly being updated to incorporate the latest and greatest changes and keeping up with that is rough on that merit; it gets even harder when the network has to be made friendly to a very wide variety of devices and adding quality support for those devices.
      • Depends

        In a lot of organisations where there are custom in-house applications this may be true or if you rigidly hold to outdated templates and systems but for the majority of workplaces this is not required, IT should just figure out how to actually help instead of trying to control. IT seems to forget that they work for their users and not the other way around.
        i write software. it's not my software because if it was no-one else would ever want to use it. It belongs to the users, as the network and computers belong to the users and your users will be a lot happier, and you will be too, once you get that concept.
  • Simple solution

    Considering most of these "free" services have no regard for security (ahem Path) or compliance the simple solution is a written policy.

    "Dear employee, working for company XYZ we have a commitment to data security and compliance. We have a host of regulations we need to adhere to (HIPPA, SOX, FINRA add the ones that apply) and we respect your choice to use the services you enjoy to get your work done.

    Note that by using these services all legal and regulatory fines and lawsuits will now be your responsibility as this policy is written waiver that the company provides you means to conduct business and you are choosing to manage and monitor your usage of these services.
    • Exactly the solution I'm seeing used

      I think it's counterproductive to shift 100% of legal blame to the worker but it's the only thing they can really do at this point.
  • Wasn't it the new disrupter 10 years ago?

    "Consumerization of tech: The new enterprise disruptor"

    Wasn't it the new disrupter 10 years ago?
  • BYOD - Smartphones or tablets?

    "nearly half (44%) of federal employees now use a personal device for work purposes"

    So what part of that 44% is people simply using smartphones to check email? Depending on how the question or questions are asked this could make up a large part of that number.

    Would also love to see numbers on the people actually using consumer apps to work with customer, proprietary or confidential data. Without the proper IT governance these are just lawsuits waiting to happen. And we all know the use of lock screens is almost non-existent.
    • Much of it certainly is e-mail, but that's enough

      That's the point of my piece at the end. The legal and regulatory issues are large and not worked through. Companies are opening the floodgates out of desperation, not preparation. That's why consumerization is disruptive.

      And most of the large companies I talk to already have a serious consumer app data leakage problem and most are addressing it with paper policy, because that's all they can do.

      It's a very surprising situation for IT to suddenly find itself in and why I find it so interesting and important to explore.
  • Build-it-yourself departmental mobile apps

    Another issue to consider is the new generation of mobile tools that allow departments to essentially develop their own mobile apps -- to access legacy enterprise data.

    Departments "ignoring IT and doing it themselves" have always been around. The difference is this time, the sheer volume/increase in this trend.
    • Yes, it's a matter of degree

      There's a huge difference between the 10% of shadow IT tens years ago and the 30%+ it is right now. As I've pointed out before, we're not far from the half-way point which is when disruption fundamentally happen. In other words, most IT won't be under the control of IT and it becomes a minority component of service delivery.