Consumerisation of technology: Curse or Cure? (2/3)

By Mark Helme

Date 19 February 2011 Tags

In Part 1 we examined the emerging evidence that, handled carefully, a considered response to the consumerisation of technology can alleviate many ills that bedevil traditional IT.

We discussed how organisations can create value from the consumerisation of traditional IT and in this note we are going to look at some specific implementation actions that can be taken.

Next time we’ll look at issues for management, as we believe that a different management approach will be required, and a new set of implementation lessons will need to be learnt, if the response to this phenomenon is to be productive

The main issue is not the technology itself, but that users’ experience of technology outside the workplace has transformed over the last decade. This gives rise to inevitable tensions that cannot be ignored. We provide some rules of thumb below which may be helpful.

Focus on the users:

The consumerisation of technology is driven from the superior and collaborative experience of individual consumers. To harness the desire of users to have a similar experience in the workplace without losing control of information, costs or key processes then IT management must introduce change carefully:

Make an initial segmentation of users to identify where and which changes in technology can be most usefully introduced.

The segmentation should be based on the way users work using criteria such as mobility, their role in standardised repetitive working, the level of innovation and creativity required in their role, and degrees of support needed. Technologies can then be introduced and aligned with the segmentation, which enables innovation without threatening core processes and data. Do not start with technical solutions to apply to everyone, but leverage the segmentation.

The provision of some choice will send a signal that the company is changing

Many users often object strongly to being told what devices they have to use. Offering even a limited, prequalified, set of choices (that comply with existing standards) recognises this and creates goodwill.

Only technology placed in the main workflow will be valued

Consumer style technologies will be seen as novel when initially introduced into an operational environment, but once the novelty wears off they will stand or fall by their day to day usefulness. General applications (how often will you have an online chat with the Board?) fall away, leaving those that help to get the main job done. This is where investments should be concentrated.

Increasing the take-up of ‘mandatory’ systems will be an important success criterion

Mandatory IT is critical to the running of any business, but can deliver a poor user experience, which in turn may decrease productivity or necessitate extensive training to “overcome” unfriendly systems. Features of a system will be ignored, even if actually useful, and investment wasted. Some ERP vendors are now borrowing from consumer IT (e.g. viewing-devices and mashable apps) with its better interface to create a superior user experience. By aggressively adopting such offerings, you can get some of the benefits of consumerisation without the risks of “throwing open the doors to the data centre”; it can revitalise some core services.

Users form communities; support these to find scaleable solutions

It is user communities that determine the uptake (or not) of technologies, and this may present a big problem or opportunity. For example, portals and collaboration applications are judged not only by how useful they are, but also by what it feels like to use them. Users will debate their value, giving rise to change requests, and more importantly, offers to develop and trial the changes. If their initiative is disregarded users will be more likely to seek external alternatives, again wasting investment. Moreover necessary integration may not take place, and security may be compromised. IT needs to help users shape and develop their solutions; they will then “on-sell” to their colleagues.

User communities can be the most fruitful source of innovation

Organisations that attempt to determine exactly what technologies can and cannot be used will fail. A centralised ‘supply side’ model will not understand the business drivers, and will not be close enough to the market to predict demand. User communities will pick winning innovations but are likely to be poor at communicating, packaging, distributing and supporting them. This is where the IT organisation needs to ‘bring the solutions to the internal market’ and support their integration into the rest of the ecosystem.

In Part 3 we shall look at how the consumerisation of IT leads to changed management practices.

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