Consumerisation of technology: Curse or Cure? (1/3)

By Mark Helme

Date 15 January 2011 Tags

Consumer technology is cheap, available, personalised, and highly useable. It can corrode the boundaries of an organisation’s IT, create chaos through loss of control and compromise security.

Can it also be the magic ingredient that unlocks latent value, cuts costs and supports a more agile way of working? There is emerging evidence that handled carefully consumer technology can be a cure to many of the ills that bedevil traditional IT…

The contrast between users’ experience of IT at home and work has never been greater. At home the experience is of cheap individualism, autonomy, usability and aesthetics – at work it is of expensive corporate systems that are mandated, hard to use and certainly not pleasurable to use. This might once have been shrugged off with simple appeals to security, the need for consistent process and the cost of incorporating consumer variety into corporate systems. However as individuals in the business use consumer technologies as adjuncts to their corporate systems or even substitutes, then the answer is not just to reinforce the barriers, but to see if there is a way of co-opting these technologies.

The new world shakes hands with the old world

We see three emerging trends in the use of consumerisation of IT in the enterprise world:

Extending the reach of traditional IT

For the past few years the most high profile examples of the use of Consumer IT within the enterprise have been about increasing innovation outside IT’s traditional domain e.g. Crowdsourcing in R&D using public wikis or customer profiling using social networking sites and virtual worlds.

Substituting corporate products with consumer ones

Over the past 18 months of credit crunch there has been an increasing emphasis on using Consumer IT in projects that cut annual operating costs, reduce capex requirements and sweat legacy IT assets. This is most often done by substituting:

  • Public infrastructure (e.g. broadband) for private networks and their associated infrastructure
  • Consumer productivity applications (e.g. Google apps) for traditional office software suites
  • Consumer utility products and services for corporate utilities e.g. remote backup, virus checking
  • Consumer centric self support services for very basic corporate IT support
  • Consumer devices (e.g. PCs, hand helds) for corporate devices

Overlaying consumer IT onto corporate assets

Whilst reduced IT cost is enough reason to substitute for, or combine with, the legacy estate the real prize is to appeal to the consumer experience to get greater takeup and usage of existing applications and information, speeding up and expanding their benefits for little additional cost:

  • Integrating ‘mashups’ with legacy systems to improve functionality, workflow and usability
  • Web enabling legacy systems to expand access
  • Integrating consumer friendly collaboration applications with corporate workflows to speed up processes

To bring this to life here is an example of an overlay:

Consumer technology in Supply Chain Management

A logistics firm suddenly cannot fulfil a delivery which puts a complex customer call off at risk. A substitute must be found quickly. The planner contacts alternative suppliers and asks for availability; He has most of the information required but it is stored in Google Docs, his preferred software for home and business use. He starts a situational application and the contact and availability information is entered via Google docs in a ‘mash up’.

He then contacts a small group of preferred suppliers who are granted limited access to data via their own preferred interfaces which could be for example widgets, opensource docs, map GUIs or corporate software. They update the ‘available to deliver’ information. A conference call is then set up with the account managers and the data is made available in a range of device-friendly formats so that those away from their desks can review the information. During the call they collaborate to select the best supplier and the results are loaded into the ERP which automatically recalculates the delivery dates.

Here the organisation used consumer IT to add functionality and usability to a legacy application. The ERP vendor had the foresight to create a ‘situational’ application capability to allow the various parties to easily integrate with the ERP using their own preferred but compliant software irrespective of whether it came from the corporate or consumer markets.

In Part 2 we will explore what works and what doesn’t, examine the impact on the IT organisations and suggest a checklist of implementation actions.

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