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Compliance and cost concerns fuel an IT consumerization backlash


In this, the first of a two-part series, I reflect on the hype surrounding the consumerization of IT and why I believe thatthe enterprise is taking on more than just freedom to choose laptops and smart phones. 

IT consumerization has generated considerable hype. The idea of putting the cost burden of devices back on users seems like a simple solution to a growing problem. However consumerization is about much more than people choosing their own devices. Failure to recognise that the old rules of IT are being re-written risks a cost and compliance blowout and an IT backlash as I highlighted in my Top 12 IT Management Trends for 2012 series.


"Power to the people." John Lennon

When was the first time you heard the term “consumerization of IT”? For me it was late 2008, when the impact of the great financial crisis first became apparent. I don’t know about you, but I immediately directed my focus on how to leverage IT automation and governance to help CIOs align their costs with the reality of a (generally) disappearing IT budget and promptly forgot about consumerization until it dawned on me that, along with cloud, it might be a way to improve the user's experience and reduce the capital intensity of IT.


With the genie now truly out of the bottle, I believe that the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) experience represents the beginning of a deeper shift to BYO ‘everything’. The resulting hi-tech food fight has the potential to be so disastrous that you may find yourself wishing that forgetting about consumerization was as easy as it was for me in 2008.


“We are living in a material world.” MadonnaPhoto by turtlemom4bacon -

Opinions about the consumerization of IT can be as, if not more, polarised than opinions about cloud. The definition of consumerisation is equally contentious. It’s most frequently described as BYOD. In my opinion that completely misses the point. I believe that the consumerisation of IT represents a step-change in the end-user’s familiarity and comfort (if not sophistication) with technology and that means it’s not just devices that they’ll have an opinion about, it’s you too!


To illustrate this example, think about cars. When the Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot introduced the first horseless carriage back in 1769 they were widely considered to be complex to operate, dangerous in the wrong hands not to mention that maintenance was dirty and smelly work best left to a specialist. Sound familiar? Yet most of us could no more think of (or afford) to have our own chauffeur/mechanic on staff than we would keep an electrical engineer on staff to turn operate a light switch.


The last ten years have seen not only IT devices, but IT services evolve from their arcane, engineering-driven origins to the types of services that a two-year-old, literally, can use. As HP’s Bill Veghte likes to put it “it doesn’t make sense to business users that they can have a 21st century experience at home and a 20th century experience at the office.”.When you consider that many of those personal experiences are with cloud services and devices that are cheap if not free, it’s hardly a surprise that our end-users are revolting.


Photo by &ersand -“I want to be anarchy.” Sid Vicious

Consumerisation isn’t about BYOD, it’s about the relevance of the IT department period. The result has been something of an arms race between corporate IT and consumer IT.


As I mentioned in my last post, Bill Jenson and Josh Klein's book “Hacking Work" captures the zeitgeist brilliantly. The idea is that you can and should break stupid rules that get in the way of efficiency. If that means, for example, going to Google Docs to better collaborate, then do it. Bill is quick to add that the determinant factor should be maintaining compliance with the laws of the land - the law apparently being above stupidity…


Don’t get me wrong. I love the book. It’s up there along with Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson as design points for 21st century business. But sending a message that IT is somehow acting out of bureaucratic self-interest and that they take delight in tormenting their users with crappy technology masks a deeper problem - they’re generally doing what’s asked of them by the very people who complain.


Sending end-users marching off unsupervised to procure their own devices and services willy-nilly will lead to a massive duplication of cost and business-crippling compliance problems. Ironically, it’s often the same people that deny IT a “lump” budget increase that are then overspending on procuring their own IT in dribs and drabs at a cumulative cost that’s greater than the sum originally rejected.


Unmanaged consumerization leds to ‘shadow IT’

The root of the problem with unmanaged consumerisation is “shadow IT”. No, it’s not a villain in the next Spiderman movie (although you might be forgiven for thinking so once it’s on the loose), it’s the idea that if left unchecked, the actual IT portfolio can far exceed the documented IT portfolio. This can lead to cost, compliance and complexity challenges as services are duplicated, productivity is lost due to employees manually moving their data between increasingly fragmented processes not to mention the potential risk of a mission critical business process failing catastrophically due to its reliance on an undocumented system (whether physical, virtual or cloud).


Photo by thowi - IT has deservedly earned a villain-like status allowing CIOs the power to fire employees who step outside portfolio management processes and procure their own systems. However, I am starting to believe that trying to prevent Shadow IT with instant dismissal rules could be equally disastrous as people find ways around the rules that will only obscure cost. risk information and hamper innovation.


The challenge is finding a governable balance that enables innovation and minimises complication. In my next post, I’ll outline six steps you can take to avoid the backlash of IT consumerization.  

Paul Muller has a wealth of experience working with CIOs and VPs of IT improve IT performance and business alignment.
About the Author


Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsible for fostering HP’s participation in the IT management community, contributing to and communicating best-practice in helping IT perform better.


Hi Paul


Interesting article! I am curious how this continuous as I personally think that only a few people understand what the future will bring for IT. And that change will be with a lot more surprises that we think (and maybe want). One of the biggest challenges we will face in my opinion is a significant change in attitude and behavior (though not necessarily in culture)…because as the “new kid on the block” we will be required to “grow up”…play time is over…we need to get serious now.


As an example…we always talk about “Business and IT alignment” while we never talk about “Business and HR alignment” or “Business and Legal alignment”…I started to hate that term already 20 years back because it still shows separation and that’s where in my opinion the problem lies. In the future – being able to cope with the demand of the business – we need to address that separation. And I totally agreed with you the other day when you said we need to “address the EGO of IT” because that is exactly what we need to do to get ready for the new era…and we don’t have that much time either…


Joshua Brusse; Transformation Manager

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