Category Archives: Consumerization

Mind the Gap – Consumerization of Innovation

The landscape of IT innovation is changing. “Back in the day” (said in my gravelly old-man voice from my Barcalounger wearing my Netware red t-shirt) companies who were developing new technology solutions brought them to the enterprise and marketed them to the IT management stack. CIOs, CTOs and IT directors were the injection point for technology acceptance into the business. Now, that injection point has been turned into a fire hose.

Think about many of the technologies we have to consider as we develop our enterprise architectures:  tablets, smartphones, cloud computing, application stores, and file synchronization. Because our users and clients are consuming these technologies today outside of IT, we need to be aware of what they are using, how they are using it, and what bunker-buster is likely to be dropped into our lap next.

Sure, you can argue that “tablets” had been around for a number of years prior to the release of the iPad in 2010.  Apple’s own Newton Message Pad in 1993 is often the first device defined as a computing tablet. HP, IBM and others developed “tablets” going back to 2000 based on the Microsoft Tablet PC specification. These did gain some traction in certain industries (construction/architecture, medical).  However, these were primarily converted laptops with minimally innovative capabilities that failed to gain mass adoption. With the iPad, Apple demonstrated the concept of consumerization of innovation by developing the platform to the needs of the consumer market first, addressing the reasons why people would use a computing tablet instead of just pounding current corporate technology into a new shape. 

Now, IT has to deal with mass iPad usage by their users and customers.

Similarly, cloud services have been used in the consumer market for over a decade. It can be stated that many of the services users consume outside of the enterprise are cloud services (iTunes, Dropbox, Skype, Pandora, social networking, etc). As a consumer of these services, the user gains functionality that is not always available from the enterprises they work for. They can select, download and install applications that address their specific needs (self-service anyone?). They can share files with others around the globe. They can select the type of content they consume and how they communicate with others via streaming audio, video and news feeds. And don’t get me started on Twitter.

And this is the Gap IT needs to close.

We have tried to show our user population and our business owners the deficiencies in these technologies in terms of security, availability, service levels, management and other great IT industry “talk to the hand” terminology.  We’ve turned blue in the face and stamped our feet like a 2-year-old in the candy isle.  But has that stopped the pressure to adopt and enable these technologies within the enterprise? Remember, our business owners are consumers too.

IT needs to give a little here to maintain a modicum of control over the consumption of these technologies. The tech companies will continue to market to the masses (wouldn’t you?) as long as that mass market continues to consume.  And we, as IT people, will continue to face that mounting pressure and have to answer the question: “Why can’t we do that?” The net is that the pendulum of innovation is now swinging to the consumer side of the fulcrum. IT is reacting to technology instead of introducing it.

To close this Gap, we need to develop ways of saying “yes” without compromising our policies and standards, and do it efficiently. Is there a magic bullet here? No. But we have to recognize the inevitable and start moving toward the light. 

My best advice today is to be open-minded to what users are asking for. Expand your acceptance of user-initiated technology requests (many of them may be great ways to solve long term issues). Become an enabler instead of a CI –“no”. Adjust your perspectives to allow for flexibility in your control processes, tools and metrics.  And, most important of all, become a consumer of the consumer innovations. Knowledge is power, and experience is the best teacher we have.


The Consumerization of IT: No Longer Just About Phones or Tablets

Pete Khanna of TrackVia

Pete Khanna is the CEO of TrackVia, a cloud-based application platform that allows business users to build and deploy their own enterprise-grade SaaS applications.

Guest Post by Pete Khanna, CEO, Trackvia

What CIOs Need to Know – And Consider Doing – About the Emergence of Build-it-Yourself Enterprise Applications

It used to be that when a department or even a single employee wanted a new business application, they submitted an IT ticket and patiently waited for an answer. IT would evaluate the request, and decide whether to buy something, build something or simply do nothing. Often, this process took weeks, months and sometimes even years.

Emboldened by the “Consumerization of IT” trend and empowered by new cloud-based build-it-yourself application platforms, more front-line workers are bypassing IT all together, using their corporate credit cards to buy, build and deploy their own enterprise-grade SaaS applications within hours or days.

Experts agree this trend is likely to continue – and even accelerate. Analyst research firm Gartner predicts that “citizen developers” will build 25 percent of all new business applications by 2014.

Early case studies showed employees were building and deploying highly specialized or one-of-a-kind ‘rogue’ applications. These were the type of applications where an off-the-shelf software or SaaS solution either didn’t do the job or simply didn’t exist. However, more and more often, workers are using these build-it-yourself applications to deploy highly customized versions of common department applications, ranging from CRM SaaS solutions and inventory applications to HR systems and even customer service software.

The benefit of building your own department solution is that it’s often as much as 80 percent more affordable than off-the-shelf software or SaaS solutions. More importantly, these build-it-yourself solutions can be designed, customized and tailored by the users to meet the exact needs and requirements of the business. So instead of departments changing their processes or workflow to match that of the solution, users can change the solution to match their own processes. Simply put, features can be added, removed, changed or tweaked with a few clicks of the mouse. This leads to both greater efficiency and satisfaction by users.

All of this poses a growing challenge to IT professionals. Namely, how does IT manage the implementation of these so-called rogue applications without impeding employee productivity? The biggest concern from IT professionals is that they don’t want to be in constant clean-up mode, fixing or supporting solutions that end-users built themselves. A close second is that they want to be assured that the application is secure, ensuring that sensitive company information isn’t being compromised.

Having worked with thousands of businesses – from small cash-strapped start-ups to Fortune 100 companies – to implement their own custom applications, we’ve complied this list of best practices.

Step 1: Surrender to Win

The first and perhaps most important (and difficult) thing to do is decide whether or not to fight or embrace the “Consumerization of IT” movement. Even in highly regulated industries like banking and healthcare, where they use airtight firewalls, employees are finding ways around the lockdown mode of their internal IT organization. Doctors are bringing iPads into the examination room with their own apps installed. Marketers within banking organizations are using social media tools to distribute information. USB ports can be used to transfer information from unsecured laptops to company computers. The simple question becomes whether or not you want to use your limited IT resources and time policing employees or educating and empowering them. Getting alignment on this critical question at the highest levels of the organization is key.

Step 2: Offer Something Secure, Scalable and Supportable

Rather than hope you’re employees find and pick a secure and reliable build-it-yourself solution, many companies get out in front of their users and identify a single platform that meets both IT’s requirements and end-users’ needs.

This is where cloud-based application platforms are showing the most favorable response from business users and IT managers alike. Most organizations have larger, more complex enterprise-level applications that on some level need some customization. By adopting and implementing a secure, cloud-based application platform, CIOs proactively meet their own requirements while still providing end-users with a solution they can use to meet their own unique individual or department-level needs.

Implementing a single platform solution also helps streamline ongoing management and support, while making it faster and easier for employees to learn. For example, if all in-house applications are built atop a single platform, employees don’t have to learn to use multiple solutions. It also means IT doesn’t have to support multiple solutions. Everyone wins.

Step 3: Consider the Reliability

Nothing gets CEOs cackling faster than an email about a server or a critical system going down and employees checking out for the rest of the day. It’s also no fun for CIOs or IT Directors who have to deal with the hundreds of emails from employees asking, “Is the server back up? When will the CRM system be back up? What’s going on?”

A recent Constellation Research study shows most SaaS vendors report internal reliability ranging from 97 percent to 99.1 percent. However, it’s not uncommon to expect or demand that your cloud vendor partner demonstrate four-nine reliability. Most vendors will bake this guarantee into a standard SLA agreement. And as always, check the vendor’s track record and ask for customer references.

The Road Ahead

Like water, businesses and workers will always find the path of least resistance when it comes to working faster, more efficiently or effectively. The role of IT has always been to help clear technical obstacles for users, and protect them along the way. That hasn’t changed.

What has changed, however, is that IT has the opportunity to get out in front of the cloud computing and the “Consumerization of IT” trends, while playing a more proactive and strategic role in the overall organization’s future, versus trying to play catch up and doing damage control.

And that’s something I think we’d all agree is a good thing.