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IT Response to Consumerization: Lead, Follow, AND Get out of the Way

The best advice to IT managers encountering a slew of new tablets and smart phones  walking in their doors might be: “Lead, Follow, AND Get out of the Way!”

There is a new buzzword, ‘Consumerization’, which refers to users bringing in new technology that organizations don’t formally support.  The word may be new, but the phenomenon itself is not.  There is a famous story of a consulting firm that went into a major corporation in the very early 1980s and asked the head of IT how many PCs were in the organization.  The response from the IT exec was definitive:  “We have bought 6 for IT to evaluate.”  The consultants went into the organization to do their own inventory and came back a few weeks later, have found over 1,000 PCs that had been acquired by line managers using their own discretionary budgets.  They were being used for spreadsheets. word processing, etc.

A usual response of IT then was not different from  now:  ‘Close the Doors!  These represent security threats!’  The practical fact is, this reaction doesn’t work. In past, employees would sneak in  ‘unauthorized’ computers by putting them in their briefcases.  Now, they  slip them in their coat pockets.  This the age of mobility.  And, as we wrote in January,  insurance professionals are finding uses for it.

And it used to be the case that IT could control access to networks via cables.  Now, we are moving to a wireless, tablet driven world.  (The recent story about Shaw abandoning cell strategy in favour of building out its WiFi capabilities is testament to that.)

So, how can IT cope if users are selecting their own devices and communications methods?  It does have responsibility for security and data integrity.  A recent article by Nathan Clevenger in IT World Canada offers some useful advice.  First, Clevenger suggests that IT has to recognize that it is not the only authority.  He cites a case study involving Hyatt Hotels and its CIO Mike Blake.  He writes:

“I believe Blake has demonstrated that the ‘consumerization of IT’ is ultimately a positive trend for corporations. It may involve painful changes in the status quo of corporate IT, including, as Blake said, how IT groups have to ‘shed our arrogance’ to give the underlying technology a chance to succeed. But this trend provides the business, the entire company, and even the whole economy with an improvement in efficiency, productivity, and profit.”

Clevenger cites other examples and concludes that the benefits far outweigh risks, but only if IT can take a different attitude and focuses its skills on how ‘foreign’ devices can be welcomed into the corporate effectively and safely.    He concludes: “Based on the opinions of those I spoke with, it is the role of IT to evaluate the opportunities that come with consumer technologies, weigh the risks and benefits, and define a strategic plan for the future.”

It may be a different role, but likely more important, and probably more interesting.

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