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Consumer technology setting the bar high

This article from InformationWeek addresses the effect consumer IT is having on corporate IT. I think we can take this stream of thought one step further – if employees are coming to work with high expectations, then it’s plausible to suggest that customers have high expectations when interacting with your brand. Especially on the technology front. Apple devices, for example, have turned usability into an art form, and a ‘must-have’. Your company will be considered a deplorable exception, if, when a customer attempts to transact with your company it is difficult, time-consuming and frustrating. If this isn’t a perfect case-in-point for ensuring your customer service technology (a major touch-point with your customers) passes the usability test, I don’t know what is.


A few years back comedian Louis C.K. talked about how technology is amazing right now and nobody is happy . C.K. recalled when he boarded a plane that was the first to be fitted with high-speed Internet. Halfway through the flight, the Internet went down, prompting the guy next to him to exclaim, “Oh, this is bulls—.” C.K. asked, “Dude, how does the world owe you something that you didn’t know existed 30 seconds ago?”

What C.K. really meant to say is that the guy’s response is a reaction to consumerization of IT. That YouTube clip dates back to February 2009, about 14 months before the iPad went on sale. The iPad more than anything else set the standard for a friction-free computer experience. It’s simple to use, apps install in seconds, and the employee is up and running with the app in 10 minutes. It has spoiled the employee in a way, setting the bar high for technology in the workplace. The employee now looks at the IT department and wonders why he is still on XP at work when he runs Windows7 at home. Likewise, the executive committee is asking IT why it should take it six months and counting to integrate SharePoint when Google Cloud Connect is ready now.

The iPad raised people’s expectations, and illustrated a widening gap between IT and the user. However, the same misconceptions about complexity exist in the enterprise. For instance, the employee’s Windows7 PC at work is far different from the one he uses at home. The home PC came prebuilt with Windows7 and he installed his favorite applications with a disk or by downloading and installing manually. Though the enterprise PC looks the same to the average employee, it is far different. It might be loaded from an image each time the employee boots, with apps coming from one server and his customizations from another. The corporate OS is assembled at the endpoint. So although most people might perceive computer services as getting easier to provide, they actually are more complex than ever on the back end.

The IT department is not moving fast enough for businesses. IT is still of a reactive mindset, figuring out ways to monitor and secure consumer devices and services. Although this is important, the business believes IT has more pressing things to do, and if IT cannot deliver, it will look for a consumer-based solution. This will only further marginalize IT’s relevance.

Forrester’s The Demand For Speed Is Accelerating — And IT Isn’t Keeping Up report addresses the changing landscape that consumerization has brought. It discusses the pressure businesses are under to respond and shift to consumer behavior which is itself changing at a much higher rate. And so the business unit is putting pressure on IT to be nimble in ways that it has never been. At one end, average users expect more and faster. IT, on the other hand, has a growing list of unfilled requests from the employees.

Sharyn Leaver, a VP and research director at Forrester Research, says enterprise architects must lead IT out of a reactive role. An enterprise architect initiates complex analyses of business structures and processes and might make recommendations from the information collected.

Change won’t come exclusively to the enterprise architect, though. All IT workers will need to understand the specific business they serve. HR might still be looking for techs with soft skills, but the landscape is shifting to techs with business acumen, such as MBAs who minored in computer science.

IT won’t be walled off from the rest of the business, as it is today; it will be embedded in it. The SQL admin will vanish when the servers are managed offsite; marketing will hire a couple of data miners with respectable SQL skills. Accounting will employ a full-time coder to tweak custom apps. The security administrator role will expand to cover the enterprise practices, not just IT’s. The desktop support engineer’s position will be moved to the mailroom because there will be zero configuration for the hardware. Save for the new mailroom position, all these roles will require business credentials.

Recently the cry was for IT to adopt consumerization or perish. Now that consumerization is upon us, IT needs to learn the business side of things or perish.

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