Are we harboring the last vestiges of Soviet-style communism at the heart of the enterprise? And is consumerization of IT the new Glasnost?
In your daily life, you are inundated with choice—from the brands of clothing you wear to the television you watch and the restaurants you frequent. But traditionally, that freedom of choice ends at the office doors, where the IT department decides the hardware and software you should use to do your work, how much storage you have access to and when and how new services are provisioned.
"IT has behaved like the former Communist states, with strict and limited options for users," says Leslie Muller, co-founder and CTO of cloud automation and management solutions provider DynamicOps, spun out by Credit Suisse's Global Research and Development Group in 2005. "Some of my colleagues and my wife all grew up in Communist Russia or Poland, with a centrally managed economy, five-year plans, central committee management and artificial pricing for everything. They lived with the idea that something that was good for one person was good for everyone. That's what IT is like today."
BYOD Challenges IT's Ability to Exert Control
But IT's ability to exert control over the enterprise environment is increasingly being challenged. Some employees are demanding a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment that allows them to access enterprise resources and do their work on the devices they choose rather than the hardware approved by IT.
"BYOD is here to stay," says Morten Grauballe, executive vice president of Corporate Development & Strategy with mobile software management specialist Red Bend Software. Red Bend works with mobile device manufacturers, chipset manufacturers, ODMs and OEMs to provide type 1 hypervisors for Android devices that allow them to run two virtual images: a personal device and a more secure enterprise device.
"The market is shifting very rapidly at the moment," says Grauballe. "It was a very controlled environment. The corporation would supply all the PCs and laptops to their employees. Those PCs and laptops would have a standard build. That's rapidly changing at the moment. There's no way back. This is happening. It started with the smartphones and now we're seeing tablets being added to that."
Consumerization of IT Is a Software Issue, Too
And consumerization of IT—the addition of choice to the enterprise environment—is not just a hardware issue. Employees and even whole divisions can now turn to the cloud to make an end-run around IT if they believe they are not getting the tools they need or want from IT.
"I don't have to go buy servers; I don't have to go buy people," says David Nichols, leader of the CIO Services Group at Ernst & Young. "I can go to a cloud service provider and I can do it completely without you. I can go buy people or a server or a data center that can produce what I need quicker than IT can give it to me."
While the IT organization's initial response might be to clamp down on these pockets of shadow IT, the experts all agree that turning back the clock is not an option. Instead, IT needs to find a way to embrace employee choice. Muller says the question is not whether IT should present its users with choices, but rather how IT should present users with choices.
"If you don't give me the functionality that I want, I'm going to use the functionality that's out there," Nichols says. "And most of the time, that functionality is free. If you don't start to look at how this affects your enterprise, then your enterprise is going to evolve without you. The bigger threat is by forcing people to go outside to do business the way they want to do business, you're only making that risk worse."
Nichols calls it evolution by car bumper: You can either ride in the car or be tied to the bumper, but there won't be much left of you if you select the latter choice.
"The truth is the IT guys can consume external services and provide them to their internal users with policies and controls and then get out of the way," Muller says. "IT is an integral part of the business. It is allowing you to be more competitive. That's how you beat your competition. The other side of that is that they're there to protect you. Those things are all important. The problem is that right now they're not doing the right thing."
Making the Mental Shift to Consumerization of IT
"My biggest frustration when I meet CIOs and senior leaders is they keep asking me the same question: What can we do technology-wise to make this better?" Muller says. "But that's the wrong perspective. We don't have users anymore, we have consumers. It's a mental shift. It's not a technology issue."
"You have to understand you're moving to a market economy," Muller adds. "Competition. Competition is good. You have to put your consumers first."
That is, of course, easier said than done. But Muller says the place to start is to understand who your users—your customers—are and then adapt automation and processes to those users.
"IT needs to be personal to each user now," Muller explains. "The IT guys have to really start inventing processes that are so highly automated that they are scalable."
There is a technical challenge inherent in that, Muller notes. Vendors build and sell software for the operators of environments and focus their efforts on console-level tooling.
"That's not who you're selling to anymore," Muller says. "You have to build solutions starting with the user. You need to think of the end-end-user and how they interact with the policy your building or the automation system you're building."
Dematerialization Is Necessary
To get the sort of automation and adaptability necessary for this mindset requires something Muller terms 'dematerialization.' In the consumer world, dematerialization is well advanced. CDs have given way to MP3s and other formats with no physical representation. DVDs have given way to streamed content. Zipcar has made it possible to obtain a car only when it is needed. They have become services that users consume. And Muller says IT organizations need to start thinking about IT resources in the same way.
"You need to start thinking about your users and dematerialization," Muller says. "The future data center is 100 percent virtualized or as close to it as possible. Storage, network, apps-everything is 100 percent automated. I can't deliver this personalized service without this high level of automation. I just can't do it. I have to think dematerialized."
Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at email@example.com