Consumerization is about the people, not the technology

Credit: Tomonari Suzuoki via Flickr

If I had to sum up the essence of this week's second annual CITE Conference and Expo, it would be with the words of Judy Batenburg, vice president of IT infrastructure and operations at Starz.

"It's not a technology problem. It's a people problem."

Batenburg was referring to BYOD, but the same statement could be applied to any facet consumerization of IT and the enterprise -- BYOD, enterprise social networks, cloud services of all types, mobile devices and mobile apps, and even the workplace itself.

All of these trends are being driven by people -- their behaviors and their needs. When IT fails to recognize that and tries to address these transitions as a typical technology problem to be solved or a technology project, the initiatives often fail -- as the first BYOD program that Batenburg and her team attempted at Starz did.

That exact nature of that failure may vary. Users may simply ignore IT directives and build their own rogue or shadow IT solutions in the process. They may deliberately use their personal devices (and often their LTE connection, which IT can neither detect nor manage without enrolling those devices in some form of mobile management). They may do something as simple as emailing critical business documents to their personal email accounts, or use a flash drive, cloud service, or mobile app to move the data outside of any organizational control. In the most extreme instances, executives may even reorganize or fire IT staff -- if IT and security leaders prove to be more of an enemy to progress and productivity and less of a business partner.

The idea that IT must go beyond addressing technology came up in in virtually every encounter I had with speakers and attendees over the three days of CITE 2013. Each time, it reaffirmed my long-standing belief that IT desperately needs the help of HR and other corporate stakeholders in order to have any real hope of successfully surviving or managing the transitions occurring in almost every workplace.

In the organizations that have succeeded with consumerization initiatives, the key lesson offered during the various sessions and workshops was almost universal -- IT needs to spend time with users, and understand their jobs and processes and the tools that they are choosing to use. IT must explain why it's deploying new tools in language that users can understand (and increasingly, users can understand many of the technical explanations in IT's ownlanguage and jargon). Most importantly, IT professionals need to understand not just what tools users want and how they use them, but also why those tools are so important. When choosing new tools, IT must involve the people that will use them from day one.

These types of discussions can happen in a variety of ways -- email, internal social networks, water-cooler or cafeteria discussions, one-on-one training, workplace technology forums, joint worker-IT committees, IT attendance at departmental staff meetings, after-hours social events, and so on. But simply dropping a policy document or guidebook on every one's desk, or mass trainings where there is little or no interaction between workers and the trainer? Those tactics simply won't work.

While summing up these challenges is easy, actually meeting them is not. We're talking about changing the corporate culture of an organization as whole and the culture of the IT department within that organization. We're talking about the transformation of the very idea of work, the workplace, and the space that work has in our lives. All of this is a shift of enormous magnitude and it is happening incredibly fast.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from CITE 2013 is that the world is changing around us and that we need to acknowledge the enormity of those changes to have any hope of fully harnessing their potential.

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