Message to IT: Consumerization is not a fad

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I write a lot about consumerization and the changing face of IT and I get a lot of comments from old-school IT guys that the cloud is essentially a trick or a cruel joke -- and it's only a matter of time before it betrays its simple-minded proponents, who will come running back to IT. 

But consumerization is not a fad that will wither and die if you wait it out. Here's why it's a mistake to think of it that way.

Consumerization evolved from a confluence of technology developments including mobile, social, and the cloud. I can see the old-school IT pros rolling their eyes as they read this, but I'm using these terms to illustrate a shift in the way we use computers. Whether you believe it or not, the development of the smartphone and the tablet, the apps that run on those devices, the ability to use the cloud as a central repository across devices, and the power to share with others easily has driven the changes we are seeing in the enterprise today.

And as users see the simplicity and beauty of these devices and the software that runs on them, they want that at work. They're sick of monolithic software they have to fight in order to perform simple tasks. What's more, they're tired of IT pros treating them like demented children and refusing every request or taking weeks or months to complete it.

Now, I also know that some IT pros see the tablet as a cute toy to play games and watch videos, but not as a serious work device -- but those who see it that way are really missing the sweeping change that's happening around them. People are using tablets for work every day. It's already a fact of life.

And those folks aren't just reading email, although I think the iPad is the best email reader I've ever used. They are doing real work with real programs. They might not be accessing an ERP system -- although if has a Web UI and they're using a compatible browser, why not? --- but there are a ton of iOS and Android apps out there that enable employees to do productive work, often in a manner easier than that presented by the traditional enterprise software consumerization naysayers seem to value so much.

Go ahead, IT, pooh-pooh the significance of this change. But the people around you, your business users, have already changed. In an interview with CITEworld last year, Jive CEO Tony Zingale said his company doesn't even bother dealing with IT anymore. They sell straight to the business units. It's not just Jive. It's happening all the time now, more and more.

The fact is, much to the chagrin of IT pros, the consumerization movement is not about IT at all. It's about about users and business units and providing tools that minimize complexity and enable users to just do their work. People aren't using Dropbox because they want to spite IT and show they can do it themselves. They are using it because they went to IT, were told they couldn't get their content via the cloud, and found a way around the roadblock.

It's time for IT to understand that its role is changing and that it's there to serve the needs of the business units. As Electronic Arts CIO Mark Tonnesen said in an interview with CITEworld last year, you have to shift from a department that "racks and stacks on-premise software to a more flexible model that drives innovation." Exactly.

IT needs to search for solutions that meet the needs of the enterprise and give users the freedom they need to do their work on any device, anywhere, anytime. IT needs to embrace the growing array tools that can help users access enterprise repositories in a safe way on mobile devices. In fact, IT can and should also be leading the way in teaching users about security, responsibility, and best practices as it relates to consumerization.

Ultimately, IT isn't being pushed out. In fact, it's needed more than ever. All IT needs to do is step back for a second and champion the change instead of pretending, against all evidence, that it will go away.

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