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Why the Consumerization of Technology is Like Bad Medicine
O.K., let's see how far I can torture this metaphor...
One of the hot topics in tech these days is the consumization of IT. That means the increasing use - almost entirely at the behest of users - of consumer-grade technology like iPads and personal PCs (often Macs) in the enterprise.
What's Good About It?
Well, users are bringing this tech in because they're comfortable with it. They perceive a "disease" (the inefficiency or unfriendliness of the standard enterprise tech) and they want to use something they think is better (or at least more fun). Basically they're prescribing the treatment of the disease with their home remedy.
Sometimes it works.
What's Bad About It?
There are several problems with this form of "treatment".
The first problem is that often it's a cure in search of a disease. The new iToy is "cool" so we should be using it. But just because something is cool doesn't mean that it actually solves a problem for the business. "Lack of coolness" is only occasionally an actual business case.
The second problem is that consumer tech is rarely designed with security or integration in mind. The iPad is for the cool exec on the go - use it on the plane, use it on the beach, play Angry Birds on your custom leather sofa...it wasn't really designed with concerns about protecting corporate data or integrating with line of business apps. Users don't always appreciate the challenges involved in securely connecting consumer devices to the corporate resources or in making applications work that were never intended to run on a consumer tablet. It is often a case of the patient demanding a medicine that was never intended to cure their actual ailment. Users sometimes view IT as being "The big mean dad" who just says "No" all the time.
...which leads to problem #3. When something goes wrong with consumer tech it's often IT that gets blamed for it. If the device doesn't work properly, is constantly failing, has a major security hole that gets exploited...it's the IT staff that gets called on the carpet for it. The patient demanded medicine that had ugly side effects (and may not have cured the disease) and then the Dr. gets blamed for the pain and suffering. Hopefully you can understand why IT staff are often reluctant to embrace the latest iToy.
And it's compounded by problem #4...consumer technology advances at lightning speeds. IT has barely gotten up to speed on the Droid 2 and suddenly the Droid 3 is on the market. Users are showing up at IT's doorstep demanding support for the new ThunderGalaxy 6 and the IT staff has never even seen one before. It's impossible to be an expert on every piece of technology on the market, especially when new tech hits the market seemingly every day. How can IT be an expert on a product that didn't even exist last week? It doesn't help matters that in the age of slashed budgets one of the items first up on the budget chopping block is training for IT staff. There is a new medicine on the shelves every day and the doctor can't possibly be an expert on all of the possible side effects and interactions of each one. But the patients demand it...
Which dovetails nicely with problem #5...there are a bazillion different medicines out there! It would be one thing if IT just had to understand how the Greenberry 3 was different from the Greenberry 4. But the reality is that the IT department has to support 200 users who want to use 141 DIFFERENT devices. Unless IT can get management to buy in on some standards things can spiral out of control quickly. "I sent an e-mail from my SuperDroid X5 but Jon's iThing 11 shows it in a different font!?!" (sigh)
I'm not sure there is a cure for this yet but here's what I recommend.
- IT needs to accept that users are using their Kindles and iPads and such in their daily lives and they want to integrate those into their work lives. If we just say "NO" and slam the door they're going to go behind our backs and find a way to do it anyhow. IT needs to listen openly to the user's business case for the device and see if there's an acceptable compromise. Maybe there IS a way to integrate their iToy. Maybe you can suggest an acceptable alternative. Don't just default to "No" or they may just do it anyhow.
- Users need to understand that IT has their hands full supporting the business technology of the company and isn't in a position to support every new device the day it comes out. They also need to understand that just because a device is "Cool" or "fun" that it may not be easy (or safe) to integrate into the enterprise systems. The business of the business is business. Ultimately devices that don't work, or worse compromise company security, are not appropriate for the workplace. IT should try to solve your business problems - and integrate the tools you want to use - but there are limits. If IT says "No" it's (hopefully) not just because they're being mean or provincial - there may be very real problems with supporting that device in your enterprise.
- Management needs to work with IT (and users) to set standards about what will and will not be supported. Then they need to stand firm on those standards - don't put IT in the position of having to support every new device that comes out of Best Buy and don't blame IT if a device that was forced upon them doesn't work or causes a security issue. Management also needs to understand that not all of the cures are equal. Some will cost more than others and it's not always IT's fault if support costs skyrocket due to having to support a multitude of everchanging consumer devices.
This issue isn't going away. It's up to everybody involved to manage it and that's going to require that everybody listen, try to work together and respect each other's views and needs. IT can't be closed-minded and provincial. Users can't pout and have a tantrum if IT can't support their new toy. Management needs to help set the guidelines, stand firm on those guidelines and keep things moving in the right direction.