Question: How does the widespread adoption of consumer technology affect the enterprise? What does an enterprise need to do to be prepared to benefit from implementing it?
The widespread adoption of technology at the consumer level is having profound and unexpected effects on enterprise IT. After years of IT stagnation caused by a combination of economic pressures and outsourcing, the adoption of consumer technology has been a breath of fresh air for some companies and a shock to others. For example, seemingly every corporate executive is demanding the latest tablet computer, but the casual use of mobile devices to view and transmit corporate IP is worrying to the business risk and governance folks.
At the very least, bringing consumer technology into the enterprise can ironically discourage internal IT innovation; because innovation generally means some risk and most enterprises are generally risk-adverse. Consumer innovations like mobile devices can be disruptive technologies, but they also represent a significant risk to the corporate view of itself as a self-contained entity. This factor has both been for the positive, when hard pressed IT departments embrace the outside help these battle tested technologies represent, and for the negative, when IT has dug in its heels with a “not invented here” attitude. This conflict is clear as the pendulum swing back to decentralized or bottom up IT has corporate IT struggling to keep up with the rapid proliferation of cloud technologies.
100% of all enterprises are using SaaS applications whether the IT function knows it or not, as business managers with credit cards take back their applications by leveraging easy access to SaaS and cloud development environments. This can be seen as a positive trend as the business units take on the responsibility for supporting their own IT requirements using (public or private) cloud technologies as the underlying infrastructure. One can argue that is where it has always belonged because they are able to response to the needs of the business far faster. On the other hand, the loss of centralized control and governance represents a certain amount of inefficiency and introduces significant risk at the enterprise level. As business units take over the applications, do you really know where your corporate data is?
Another worrying trend that will hinder the ability for the enterprise to incorporate promising consumer technologies is the erosion of skills and that innovative spark that is needed to drive their adoption. Years of outsourcing and off-shoring have battered the core technical skills of corporate IT as the role has moved increasing back towards being viewed as a costly utility by enterprise business managers who have little patience or interest in IT as a strategic asset. As corporate IT has evolved into vendor managers rather than drivers of innovation, essential skills such as systems architects and senior network engineers have disappeared. I recently worked with a major corporate IT organization that had been relying on their hardware vendors to manage their networks so long that their internal staff networking skills were so atrophied that they did not have a single person on staff who knew how to design an IP addressing scheme for their new cloud implementation. The long term effects of corporate IT downsizing and outsourcing of core functions has meant that IT departments have often been ill-prepared for the challenges of the introduction of consumer technologies that requires different approaches to the organization and support processes.
I have painted a pessimistic picture for corporate IT, but there is hope. The real innovation is happening at the edges of the enterprise as smart, creative business managers take up the challenge to modernize and drive real business value from IT by using the tools they have become comfortable with. Smart IT departments can recapture the technology leadership role by seeking out promising new consumer technologies and integrating them into the enterprise IT portfolio before they get that dreaded surprise support call from the business unit!