As one of the four major pairs of themes underlying Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here in San Francisco, Gartner research chief and distinguished analyst Steve Prentice explained to attendees why the commoditization and consumerization of technology is not to be ignored an an enterprise's strategic information technology roadmap. Prentice's presentation was given as part of the event's open ceremonies. Companies will need to embrace this loss of control and learn how to deal with it. Prentice opened by focusing on the effects that hardware commoditization was having on prices (my writeup on the consumerization part
will be is in a separate post) and how that was driving powerful technology into the hands of consumers... a trend that's beginning to move upstack into software and services. Then, he explained the consequences of ignoring that trend. Later, I'll be making a podcast of Prentice's presentation (as a part of the larger keynote presentation) available via podcast. Said Prentice:
We often know what a commodity is. We buy them everyday in the supermarket. Breakfast cereals, milk, bread, and so on. Economist define a commodity as something of value. Something that is available from multiple suppliers that is essentially the same. Now that's a pretty good description of what is happening to much of technology today; especially in hardware. Like breakfast cereals, you can now buy a computer in your local supermarket. From the way prices are falling, there will probably come a day not to far away where you'll even find the computer in the cereal box. Disk storage is rapidly becoming a commodity. I can buy a terabyte of storage on ATA drives for around $300 if I shop around. The prices are falling steadily.....Looking ahead, we can see that commoditzation is climbing steadily up the entire technology stack. Today, it's about PCs, storage and bandwidth. Tomorrow, it will include some elements of software and services as well. "So what!" you may say. This doesn't apply to me. I run serious technology for the enterprise. Well, that would be a dangerous mistake to make. This is going to affect all of you as much as it is affecting the consumer right now.....
The result of powerful technologies being driven into the hands of consumers is, according to Prentice, shifting the balance of power away from enterprise IT departments and to employees as well as other constituents that are demanding they get to use their technology on their terms as opposed to company-issued technology on company terms. Companies will need to embrace this loss of control and learn how to deal with it. Manage it. Resistance is futile.
For many people we now have more computing power and bandwidth at home than we do in the office. That is a tremendous shift in the balance of power between the user and the enterprise. ...It's rapidly leading to a situation where we say to our employers, "Look, I've got this really powerful computer at home and it really suits the way I work. Now I want to connect it to the company network." For most enterprise IT departments and CIOs struggling to preserve enterprise security, that is a nightmare scenario and is a firing offense in many companies. But simply saying no is not going to work. It is going to happen to everybody.
And then came the real example which, if you ask me, is pretty real. I've long said that it's a mistake to force mobile phone and PDA technology on employees by setting standards. Particularly with today's public facing systems where it isn't just employees accessing your backoffice, it's customers, press, stockholders, etc. For many of these constituents, you cannot decide for them what mobile technology they're going to use to access your systems. To keep them happy, you're going to have to figure out how to let them all in.
....Take mobile phones. I've used a mobile phone now for about 20 years. But I've never owned one nor paid for one. I've always used what my company gave me. But I have three teenage children and they all have their own personal mobile [phones]. And let me tell you, they are very particular about the make and the model that they have. I've just gone through buying a new mobile phone for my teenager daughter....of all the phones on the market, there was just one that she wanted and even that had to be in the right color. In a few years time, she is going to be joining the workforce along with my sons. Day one. They'll join the new company. They'll be given their security badge and stuff and they're likely to get a mobile phone. They're going to take one look at it and say "I'm not going to use that piece of junk. I'm going to use a Nokia. Or a Samsung. Or a Motorola." Or whatever. And the company response is going to be "That's our standard approved device. We don't support anything else!" Now, my kids are smart. They'll simply shrug and walk away. And as soon as they are around the corner, they'll take the SIM card out and put it into their own personal phone.
The message in this example is that employees will enter the building who will often have technologies that surpass those that the enterprise has established as a standard and as a result, in very a very classic IT sense, they'll reject the corporate technology. And, as most business technologists known, end user acceptance is critical to the success of an IT strategy or project. After the presentation, I checked with a handful of attendees to get their take on how their technology literate kids will one day be entering the workforce and to see if that was affecting their decision making when it came to setting IT strategy and acquiring IT solutions. I captured the interview as a podcast that I'll be posting later but they unanimously agreed that it was not only important to watch the trend, but it was important to embrace the idea that users are in control if for no other reason than to attract and retain the best employees.
See also: User-controlled content delivery to set enterprise expectations