Consumer tech seeping Into IT

Consumer tech seeping Into IT

The consumerization of IT continues apace. Over the past two years, I have been watching technology products and services initially developed for consumers and small businesses have an increasingly significant impact on enterprise computing. In fact, I wrote two columns on that topic: "Keeping Up With Your IT Consumers" and "Change at Hand for PC Management".

The two main points I made then still hold true today: 1) Many employees have better IT equipment and services at home than at work, and thus can no longer be treated like children who need to be told what to do, and 2) the public infrastructure that is emerging for consumers is in many ways superior to the private infrastructures typically provided by enterprise IT. Examples include e-mail, storage, wireless, collaboration and a wide range of specific applications. I wrote that the tension generated by the contrast between this ever-more-powerful public infrastructure and the aging private infrastructures of most companies would be one of the defining IT issues of the decade.

Over the past year, these trends have continued to gain traction, and the idea of consumerization has risen in importance and recognition. The following are among the current trends:

-- Cafeteria-style purchasing plans. Companies are experimenting with giving employees personal technology budgets to better meet their IT needs.

-- Browser-based applications. The emergence of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, better known as AJAX, is helping to close the once-large performance gap between client/server and browser-based systems.

-- Consumerized offices. Large companies with small branches and international offices have been quick to use public infrastructure instead of much more costly private facilities.

-- Collaboration. Taken together, blogs, RSS, wikis, Google and WebEx are redefining the way enterprise information is gathered, updated and communicated. The costs are radically lower than traditional knowledge management and collaboration tools.

-- Multimedia. The Apple iPod has rapidly emerged as an inexpensive and friendly way to distribute both audio and, increasingly, video materials across corporate networks.

-- Voice over IP. As an alternative to expensive companywide VOIP rollouts, many telecommuters, remote office employees and others whose calls may not be a high security concern are using Skype and Vonage.

-- Software as a service. The success of is just the most visible sign of a whole new wave of on-demand applications that are often a simple, low-risk way for companies to experiment with new software.

-- Security. Although the firewall deperimeterization debate rages on, many companies have concluded that it may no longer be useful to distinguish between users inside and outside their firewalls and that strong authentication and encryption over the Internet is really the only long-term individual network-access approach.

That's only a partial list of the many fronts on which consumerization is occurring, but it should be sufficient to give you a sense of the impressive rate of change. The bottom line is that IT organizations must recognize that employees are often keen to experiment with these services and that they're willing to spend their own money. In today's highly competitive marketplace, consumerization can be an important source of innovation and efficiency.

These issues are going to be important, and I'll continue to track them. What's happening in your company?

David Moschella is global research director at the Leading Edge Forum, a Computer Sciences company. Contact him at dmoschellaATearthlinkDOTnet.

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