Cloud CIO: What "Consumerization of IT" Really Means to CIOs

The consumerization of IT isn't just about employees using consumer devices and apps at work. It's about consumers becoming the primary users of internal IT applications, and it has serious ramifications for how CIOs operate and scale their IT infrastructures.

By Bernard Golden
Fri, August 12, 2011

CIO — The latest trend (or over-hyped term, if you like) is "consumerization of IT." As with cloud computing, the term is somewhat ambiguous and is applied to a number of things that are recognizably related, but which differ in details.

Consumerization of IT is usually contrasted with "enterprise IT, " which carries connotations of interminable rollouts, bewildering interfaces, obscure functionality and high prices. The poster child ordinarily cited for "enterprise IT" is SAP, which seems to raise particular ire in commentators.

Consumerization of IT, on the other hand, is associated with ease-of-use, attractive interfaces, intuitive functionality and low prices. Apple is ordinarily referenced as the exemplar of this type of computing. (Apple may not be known for low prices, but you get my point.)

Admittedly, Apple may not be known for low prices, but consumerized IT as delivered by the company can be delightful. I received a Google (GOOG) phone when attending Google I/O a couple of years ago. To get it configured and connected to Google's own email service required me to configure ports and various settings, none of which I knew off the top of my head. Between looking up the information and configuring the phone, the process required 20 minutes, most of which was consumed with me inputting stuff that I had no idea was correct. The iPhone, by contrast, required my email address and password. Within 10 seconds I was accessing my email.

Why was one easier and the other harder? Apple achieved its superior ease of use by designing its configuration to assume standard defaults and automate the configuration process. Only if the default configuration fails would the user then be forced to drill down into configuration options. After all, it's fairly uncommon that someone uses unusual ports for email access (although it can be done), so why not implement a configuration flow that assumes the typical mode as default and allows customization if necessary, instead of requiring everyone to configure their system as though custom?

Certainly, there's no question that apps designed with ease-of-use as a primary objective are much simpler and more satisfying to use. I will note, however, that Apple is not perfect in this regard, despite what its multitude of enthusiasts believe. The latest version of iOS has discarded iOS's annoying screen-based notification system in favor of Android's superior pull-down notification mechanism.

In the corporate IT world, this move to "consumerized" IT has been described as the penetration of employee-purchased mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. This phenomenon is going to swell to greater and greater dimensions. If you read my prediction blog last week, in which I forecast the enormous, gigantic growth of special purpose devices, you know that I think corporate IT will face that growth from here on out. IT organizations are going to face more and more pressure to support the BYOD (bring your own device) world.

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