Consumerization of IT: Where’s the Win-Win?

Published March 15, 2011

Everyone in business was glad to see Steve Jobs up and around and as excitable as ever when he introduced the new and improved version of Apple’s runaway hit tablet computer, the iPad, on March 2nd. Still, not every CIO was necessarily smiling—on the inside.

That’s because Apple products in general and the iPad in particular, represent the latest round of the consumerization of IT, the end-user tail wagging the enterprise dog in terms of advancing the technology agenda. “It puts more pressure on us to deliver on something that we may not be ready for or completely comfortable with yet,” says Ron Frissora, CIO of M/I Homes, a Midwest homebuilder. “But we've been dealing with this for years so it doesn't add much stress to my life.”

Not every CIO is so sanguine. “Rapid change in devices is difficult to deal with,” says Joe Buser, VP of IS for Delta Faucet. Employees are clamoring for the new iPad, he says, before corporate IT has time to get its “management arms” around the technology. Still, after a pilot project involving five salesmen testing Apple’s tablet, Delta is “buying 30 more as soon as possible,” Buser says.

Things were easier for IT before the whole consumerization trend got kicked off with the introduction of the PC in the early 1980s. “Back then, we were never really challenged by end-user expectations,” says Buser. “As users became more savvy, they became more difficult to deal with.”

But don’t get him wrong: he’s not looking back with nostalgia. “With rapid change, IT must adapt. And that's a good thing. We have to get faster at the whole deal,” Buser says. For instance, he challenges IT departments to embrace the upgrade imperative as aggressively—even more so—than end users. “Why can't a user be productively on-boarded with new technology in less than a day?” he asks.

M/I Homes’ Frissora says he sees a logical and strategic conclusion to the “consumerization” trend, and it’s a win-win for both end users and IT. He recently returned from a homebuilder CIO conference in Phoenix, where the cocktail conversation was equally divided between how to handle the influx of end-user devices such as smartphones and tablets and the eventuality of IT “getting out of the hardware business.”

Where are those two roads leading, according to Frissora? To the cloud. “Consumerization of IT means to me that more and more people are requiring and expecting anytime, anywhere access to information, for both personal and business use,” he says. That’s especially true for the younger generation, who will expect the same technological sophistication at work as they have at home, he says. And that means exploiting the advantages of cloud computing.

Frissora predicts the consumerization trend will lead to more companies moving their applications and infrastructure to the cloud—“once perceived security concerns are alleviated.” This will allow them to make their information available to employees at anytime, anywhere, and feel safe doing so. “Once this is done, the [end-user] device no longer matters,” he points out. And concerns about technology infrastructure take a backseat to process and business innovation. “And perhaps someday we can get out of the hardware business,” Frissora says.

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