The fallacy of the "consumerization of IT" is that easy-to-use smartphones and consumer-oriented apps such as Dropbox make IT organizations less important. The reality is that consumerization is IT's ticket to continued relevance.
Make that IT's only ticket.
We've moved into Consumerization 2.0. The 1.0 version was: "See you, IT chumps. I got my iPhone, Dropbox, and Google Docs, and I'm out of here."
Consumerization 2.0 sets a higher standard: "Hey, IT, can we build a zippy app for my smartphone so I can grab customer data to do my job better? Is six weeks enough time?"
It used to be that in-house IT merely had to be functional -- employees had no choice but to use it. Now employees expect beautiful design and speedy delivery. And they expect to be able to use consumer apps -- or at least their enterprise cousins -- when they make sense. "It's survival mode now for IT," says Derek Roos, CEO and founder of Mendix, a Boston-based startup that promises to build, integrate, and deploy applications for customers in days or weeks rather than months or years. "If CIOs don't step up now, they won't be in charge five years from now."
The defining characteristics of this emerging 2.0 phase are:
Easy-to-use interfaces: Dish Network gave 15,000 field technicians Galaxy phablets with apps to manage their workday and customer interactions. The training regime: a 17-minute video. If new software doesn't make sense, employees just won't use it.
A "why can't we?" attitude: "Dropbox was happening, and I could understand it because believe me I was tempted myself," says Mary Gendron, CIO of Celestica, a contract manufacturer with 30,000 employees worldwide. That doesn't mean IT organizations must say yes to every consumer app, but if an app offers a better way to get everyday work done, IT had better acknowledge the need and at least replicate that capability.
Speedy delivery: Line-of-business leaders expect apps to go from idea to implementation in a quarter or two, not in a year or 18 months. Speed often means doing iterative development rather than knocking off a big project and moving on, or it means putting more power into the hands of end users to configure software to their needs.
Integration with enterprise apps and data: Consumerization 2.0 apps must draw on data held in legacy IT systems because they're built to meet a very specific business need. Marketing teams that set up quick-hit cloud apps without IT organization involvement now need to draw from other enterprise systems, use those cloud apps on a mobile platform, do deeper analytics on the data, and funnel results into an executive dashboard. IT has to deliver all those capabilities, while keeping data secure and not sacrificing design and speed.
Consumerization 2.0 is just getting underway. Just 30 percent of the companies in our 2013 InformationWeek 500 ranking cite widespread use of enterprise mobile apps by employees; another 30 percent say they're in limited use. Only 26 percent have an employee app store.
Like any major shift, Consumerization 2.0 will leave some IT roles and strategies behind. But IT teams that embrace it can become more relevant than ever. What follows is the kind of thinking that will get IT there.
Tech can't sit in the truck Dish Network went mobile about five years ago when it rolled out ruggedized Windows laptops to thousands of the field technicians who install or repair Dish's satellite TV service at customers' homes. But that laptop was an eight-pound brick that techs had to carry along with all their other gear. "It solved some problems for us, but it's also a device that stayed in the truck a lot," says CIO Mike McClaskey.
In January 2012, McClaskey and his colleague Erik Carlson, the executive VP in charge of the field tech team, walked the International CES show floor together. When they saw the five-inch phone/tablet hybrids on display, McClaskey says, "a light went on."
Out went the ruggedized laptops, along with the push-to-talk phones and the GPS routing devices issued to every field tech. In came five-inch Samsung Galaxy Note phablets, in a rollout to 15,000 field technicians that took just six weeks. Dish estimates it's saving several million dollars this year from that three-for-one hardware swap.
More important, the gear is getting used. That's partly because of the handy, consumery hardware -- the Note is lightweight, fits in a cargo pants pocket or belt pouch, and is simple to use.