by Galen Gruman

Consumer Tech: The New Complexity Add

Nov 26, 20072 mins
Consumer ElectronicsIT Leadership

Fitting the iPhone, MySpace and Facebook into the enterprise increases complexity.

The nutty pace of technology change is old news, but now a whole new stream of change is aimed at the CIO: the consumer technologies that increasingly are being used by both employees and customers. “In a few years, 100 percent of people in the most attractive demographic—18- to 35-year-olds—will be digital natives, and their expectations are being set in that environment,” says Mark McDonald, group VP for executive programs at Gartner. That means MySpace, Facebook, iPods, iPhones, Google Maps, instant messaging, blogs. And the list goes on.

The problem with consumer tech is that it’s rarely designed with enterprise systems in mind, so to fit it into the enterprise architecture adds complexity. An iPhone, for example, doesn’t have disk encryption, creating a security hole. “For consumer-oriented technologies, one of the biggest issues is data security since these technologies are so easily lost or stolen,” says John Petrey, CIO of TD Banknorth. “There’s added complexity to support the various technologies used to connect and sync with corporate systems.”

The key to embracing consumer tech in the enterprise is to change the terms of engagement, McDonald says. After all, what the CIO wants is a consistent set of processes and technologies to manage; whether they come in the form of an iPhone, BlackBerry or Treo shouldn’t matter.

McDonald cites the wireless LAN market as a historic example. Once there was a reliable standard (802.11b), enterprises could manage the technology, and wireless devices became commonplace.

McDonald admits that consumer tech vendors, as they jockey for lock-in advantage, typically don’t adhere to such standards—and their customers couldn’t care less. But he sees a tipping point emerging where such standards will be developed either by vendors seeking to broaden their sales or by decisions CIOs make that push the vendors to respond in kind.

CIOs need to assume that many consumer technologies will become mainstream in the enterprise, just as the Web has.

“I like to think of it as an opportunity to reduce, not add, complexity,” says Motorola CIO Patty Morrison. “Enterprises that leverage consumer technologies allow their people to better manage the convergence of personal and professional demands. These are the enterprises that will win.

“It really changes the existing paradigms of end-user services within the enterprise,” she says—challenges such as integration and security notwithstanding.