Why the 'Consumerization of IT' Is a User Revolt

Rob Enderle
Slide Show

The State of the Consumerization of IT

Study finds that usage of personally owned devices is growing, but they're stilll pretty much used to augment traditional PC usage.

Like most, I've been talking about the "consumerization of IT" as some big new trend when I was reminded of something Larry Ellison said about cloud computing. He compared it to fashion trends and implied that we in the IT market were more trend-conscious than the fashion industry, except we come up with trendy new names for doing the same thing we've always done. So is this the same for the consumerization of IT? No, in this case, this name applies to something we should have been doing, but forgot about until Apple slapped us upside the head with a reminder.


Let's explore that.


From Guns to PCs


I'm a big fan of the old TV show "Have Gun - Will Travel." In this show, the hero travels from place to place as a hired professional gunman. He has two guns: a small derringer for emergencies and a custom revolver that seems to get taken away a lot so he can use the small gun. The revolver is more capable, but the derringer can be hidden and actually saves his life more often. They are kind of like a smartphone and a laptop computer, but with more blood. The point being that these tools were designed for him, personally, and not for some central organization.


The best tools are designed according to a worker's specifications to a greater degree depending on the skills of the worker. In Paladin's (hero of "Have Gun - Will Travel") case, he got the custom guns while soldiers got guns that were bought in bulk. However, snipers often get customized weapons from the military, just as engineers and other high-skill professionals get workstations and have more say in the PC and smartphone hardware they carry.


The point in all cases is to maximize the effectiveness of the person. The reason I use Paladin as an example is that a gunfighter not having the ideal tool is deadly and so the risk is both personal and severe. But with a sales employee, executive, field specialist or other professional today, having a tool that fits their skill set is just as critical to the job. A bad tool makes them less effective and that hidden cost appears to be what is helping to drive this old trend.


User-focused Tools


I remember back to my first IBM PC. In comparison to a terminal, Profs and Script, it was a godsend. You didn't have to code stuff and you didn't have to make a request from IT that could take months to accomplish to get something done. For those of us who became proficient, we were the gunslingers of our age and folks came to us to set up spreadsheets, create presentations and custom databases. We used tools (all now gone) like Lotus 1-2-3, MultiMate and Condor (database). These machines were increasingly modified with color screens, unique printers or unique drives and mice to best fit the way we worked initially and were funded from discretionary funds out of line management's budget.


Initially, Microsoft (at least in the Windows PC space) focused on the user and IBM (and eventually Compaq, HP, Dell, etc.) focused on the corporate buyer. But as Microsoft took over the corporate responsibilities, it lost focus on the user and the perfect storm it had helped create began to peter out.


Apple, which had been failing due partially to a similar twin focus on users and businesses, got Steve Jobs back, who focused the company back on the user. He took a concept that had been pioneered by IBM, the screen smartphone, and made it successful, and then took a concept that had been pioneered by Microsoft, the tablet, and made it successful as well by focusing both solidly on the user.


This isn't the consumerization of IT at all; this is simply building tools for the people who want to use them as a primary purpose rather than subordinating those needs to a staff organization. In short, the consumerization of IT is a user-led revolution driving control of the device back to where it always belonged - the user.


Part of a Bigger Trend


Now, it is interesting that this small electronic revolution appears to be happening at the same time the Occupy Wall Street folks are acting out. You might think the two things are disconnected, but after reading "America's Growing Anti-Intellectualism," I think there is a connection. (By the way, this is worth a read as it is well analyzed, and starts with a premise from anthropologist David Graeber). This article argues that we are hitting a time when folks have become disenchanted with authority and are pushing back against the status quo. Part of that is IT and other centralized corporate services dictating what you will use by going their own way. And it isn't just about wanting to use the latest device, but about using unaudited and undisclosed public cloud services.


In short, we may have what amounts to a revolt against IT and other central authority organizations and this could become the far bigger problem.


Wrapping Up: Consumerization of IT Actually a User Revolt


In the end, I think we are seeing the beginning of a top-to-bottom user revolt and the mindset that is driving it is similar and may actually be somewhat connected to bigger revolts going on worldwide. People are making different choices and taking direction from new sources than in prior years and driving change throughout their companies and cities.


This doesn't suggest they will be smart about this, however, as revolts seldom focus much on long-term strategic planning, which is why so much sensitive information is finding its way onto unsecure devices and services.


In short, if there were ever a time for IT to get back in touch with its inner user and to reinstate processes that connected internal customers to tools that met both customers' needs and the needs of the corporation, this is that time.

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