Consumerization and what IT departments still don’t understand

The consumerization discussion in companies always amazes me.

You know, the ‘bring your own device’, ‘iPad’, ’email on Android’ thing …

It is a huge change in the workplace, but so many companies still don’t understand real drivers behind this.

There is a reason that Jobs and Apple did not allow corporate IT departments to easily manage, control and restrict Apple devices .. because Steve Jobs understood that it DESTROYS the usability and performance – not just of the device, but of the user … or to give them their correct name, person (human being is OK too).

The main driver behind consumerization is not people wanting to own your own kit, it is a damning indictment of the failure of corporate IT to understand and enable people to get the job done. People want to use their own technology because they despise everything that corporate technology stands for and consistently the experience that is consistently delivers:

… unusable, slow booting, heavy, ugly (but cheap) laptops with a battery life that can just about survive one meeting, but not an international flight or even a working day.
… unintuitive, cumbersome, bloated, slow software that takes forever to download, requires you suspend common sense in using with the graphical aesthetic that a 4 year old wielding a packet of crayons would be ashamed of
… security policies that in the name of corporate compliance add additional steps that make the most simple of tasks even slower, more painful and more complex than finishing an advanced calculus paper whilst after a bottle of Grey Goose

And corporate IT people think it is about the device.


It is about YOU and what you do.

[Note that I said cheap laptops. The irony of course is that whilst IT departments often buy most of the people poor laptops, the total cost of ownership of these, and the cost of managing them is rediculously high. Not that this would bother IT departments as they buy whatever they want and don’t use the same rubbish that they provide you with. They also get to setup their machines as workable and reasonably usuable. Something that they deny to you].

Years ago, people had no choice. They had to use what they were given, they couldn’t afford the best devices and didn’t always appreciate what was possible.

But now they do, and corporate IT should be worried. Very, very worried. Today, people are working outside the system, focusing on getting the job done. Doing what they need to do to perform at work, keep their job and continue to keep the payslips coming. They are connecting these devices because they need to get to the data and information they need. And this is where most discussion of consumerization stops.

The discussion focuses on how we can make the devices secure, enforce encryption, remote wipe, add lots of compliance monitoring …



The correct way to look at this is very different.

Instead of thinking about the solution … start with the cause.

‘Our users, the people we exist to serve are voting with their wallets to NOT use what we provide. What we do isn’t working. Yes, we can show that we are meeting security commitments, but the services and technology that we provide is that BAD that people are choosing to buy their own devices, pay for their own services in order to do what they need to do to get their work done. In some cases, they know they may risk disciplinary action, but they still do it. We must be really failing people’.

You are.

Once you appreciate this, you can start to understand and envision the solution.

It starts with a mindset change of thinking: ‘what can we do to help people?’

– How can we provide great technology?

– How can we protect performance rather than killing it?

– How can we empower people?

– Yes, we have corporate responsibilities for security, but how are these implemented so as to minimise the impact?

Perhaps there is a simpler summary … ‘how can we get out of the way?’

Those that understand this shift will see consumerisation as an opportunity to redefine both the role and the relationship of internal IT departments. They will become teams that empower people, provide help to get things done. Become a department of ‘yes, here is how you can do that’.

My confidence is in this happening is not high though.

Most IT departments will resist this with every tool at their disposal … wanting to install software remotely wipe my personal PC without my approval is a pretty good testament to this.

But consumerization today is only the start of a this wave of change.

The next step should really concern IT departments … because these users, the people you have failed will next start asking very simple ‘why’ questions about corporate IT. They will ask why things take so long, cost so much, have such poor quality. In the past, people could be baffled with technical excuses, but not more. People now know what is possible because they are using this technology themselves in the own lives (and often in their work without telling you).

– They know a PC from a local store (or more likely a Mac from the Apple Store) is often faster, lighter, and pretty much better in all aspects than what is provided at work.

– They know that software as a service (even the enterprise stuff from companies like means that installs are not necessary, the patching is not a problem and that they can connect from any device. And they can get it NOW, not in months or years.

– They know that the cost charged by IT is a joke (checkout the price of memory from Crucial vs internal costs). They know the service is abysmal (Apple again) and they know that it doesn’t need to take 2 years to develop useless internal social tools when there are lots live today ( and every other SaaS provider).

So if you work in corporate IT, you either change, or be made irrelevant.

And a quick tip … after a while of you saying ‘no, it cannot be done’. People will not ask you anymore. They will just get on and do it themselves.

No battle, no fight, no executive show down. They just get on with it.

They will then ask ‘why are we paying for corporate IT’.

And then they won’t be.



6 thoughts on “Consumerization and what IT departments still don’t understand

  1. John Braithwaite

    I think your observations regarding the perceptions of corporate IT services being user inhibiting are spot on. It is how users perceive these services that is flawed though, and why they will indeed choose to shortcut, sidestep or self-source to achieve a particular goal. For each well informed, involved and self supporting user (and thereby “safe” in terms of risk) there are ten more who look on and aspire to their colleague’s shiny new device, but who have no capability in terms of usage of said device, or protection of their data. IT services include saving users from themselves, and resources allow only for efficient and economical services delivery, in turn describing policies to achieve this which are, to say the least, blunt. Demand from users for applications and devices that “just work” is as a result of the pressures placed on them to meet their objectives, and this is very evident in Support where they will shout and stamp if it doesn’t, but have no concept of the vulnerabilties they may create or the risk to their own data; or the accompanying exposure to corporate systems. Which is a gigantic concern.

    Meanwhile, the support staff are expected to be conversant with every flavour and function of smartphone, tablet, netbook, laptop and desktop and have immediate solutions at their fingertips. For they are indeed all-knowing all seeing and omnipresent.. which of course they aren’t, but this may then be interpreted as a deficit in capability or knowledge.

    On another point, where users might *feel* that the delivered device could have been lighter, faster and cheaper from their local shop this is commonly NOT TRUE! They will generally fail to compare like for like, they won’t have benchmarked, trialled, and sent out for tender for a bulk purchase, they won’t have considered things like in-service replacement schedules (will PC World provided an immediate hot-swap?) or extended warranty to keep TCO realistic for a 3 or 4 year lifecycle. Further to this, when procurement may take 6 – 8 weeks, if they have the device for 3 or 4 months before seeing the shinier one in the shop window, technology has had six months to move on!

    So how to improve the situation? Service delivery descriptions need to change to address the adjusted requirements. Safety controls and restrictions still need to be applied, but with a more holistic approach, so more transparently, less obstructively. Users should be involved in and aware of just what it is that their friendly neighbourhood support sqaud does, increasingly I have found that some insight and more understanding means better reception of services. Definitely users realising what we do in Support nurtures mutual respect.


    1. Gary Burt Post author

      I agree.

      Taking a holistic view is essential.

      I am not arguing that corporate IT is not needed per se, although I think many departments are in dangerous times if they do not change and evolve) or should that be reinvent? What is needed is exactly what you say – transparency, user engagement and a focus on the service, not the device.

      Another point you make which is absolutely the case is that that delivering simplicity is not easy. Making these easier to use, resilient to errors and intuitive is challenging. This is because you are combining a number of disciplines. Not just technology, but also user interface design, human factors analysis, anthropology, cognition and learning and many more. Again though – this encourages wider involvement in a transparent design process. Don’t leave this very hard work to the IT people alone – give them support from other teams and other parts and skills in organisations.

      Final point – IT procurement is a hornets nest. My frustration though which is admittedly based on personal experience is receiving poor quality (in my judgement) kit to save small amounts of money, when a relatively small amount more would have delivered me a much better solution that significantly increased my productivity. If IT people determine the specifications, I’m generally OK. If the finance people define this – and pick the kit, then expect offerings which may be the least expensive (meeting their targets), but a choice that no sane user, let alone technology professional would ever make.

      Going back to my experience … my work PC: underpowered, useless battery, slow to boot, poor screen, and heavy. I would never have picked this. The build was terrible, again a corporate IT masterpiece, but lets forget that for now. No home buyer in their right mind would have bought this. Corporates do, but not users who have control of their own cash – because there are better options available. Spending 25-30% more would have bought a brilliant machine that met my needs.

      Aha – procurement departments say … 30% across all users, across all devices is a huge increase in cost.

      RUBBISH. A better machine would have a longer life, allow me to get more done (try editing complex docs on a poor screen), respond to customers better (mine cannot last more than a couple of hours, meaning it is hopeless for travel) and be a better advert for my company when I use it for demos to customers.

      The first international trip I took, when I couldn’t work because the battery was dead cost more in lost time than the 30% increase in cost. So the procurement argument is blown apart. Now factor in all that lost time across 3 or 4 years … and the IT policy is costing the company a fortune.

      It isn’t complex … in any service company, people is your biggest expense. Instead of limiting them – empower them. Give them the tools to get things done.

      But this is where consumerization comes in …

      If you asked me now, I’d say that I don’t want a corporate machine. Give me the cash that you would spend and I will offset this against a machine that does work. I’m sick of arguing. I don’t want to fund my own kit – but I am sick of lost productivity in my life and my career. I just want to get the job done.

      Tell me the policies and rules I need to follow for connectivity and I will follow them.

      Oh, one other thing to think about.

      I have enabled my own technology … so can I please have the small piece of the IT budget that would cover this please?

  2. Kostia

    Agree with you mate. My experience is that while solutions delivered have multiple business justifications, the order of these priorities are “IBM” centric vs “apple” centric… Ie in order of priority:

    1. Risk management & support
    2. Compliance
    3. Enterprise scalability (ie. even if it doesn’t work well, let’s make sure we can leverage it more, to more users)
    4. Procurement
    5. Tech relationship in existing architecture or procurement models
    6. Functionality
    7. Customer need
    8. Customer experience

    Simply, to help solve it.. reverse the orders. This might be over simplification, but it works in the real world. If people don’t like it or buy it, then risk management, warranties or all the hygiene stuff are irrelevant.

    We have one great SOE client who is taking the lead of this by really simple design solutions… Such as accessing and downloading business software from an iTunes looking interface, with the one click button stating free, installed or if cost applies. Really simple, staff love it… It’s not fixing everything but it proves that customer led design approaches work and are enjoyed (yep, enjoyed should be right up there as a priority) by staff.

    1. Gary Burt Post author

      I love the idea of reversing this list – simple and accurate too. The decision for IT departments is far simpler than it appears – either enable users or get out of the way. It doesn’t matter whether you are working on the helpdesk or the CIO. Departments that enable people – embrace what is happening elsewhere and simplify tasks will be welcomed and supported. What consumerisation is doing is changing the point of reference. It used to be self-set with IT departments deciding what level of service they wanted to provide. The bar is no longer internally set – it is externally set by what people know is possible. The bar for a helpdesk is the Apple Genius Bar. Fact. If you cannot match, or even beat this, then start looking for another job, because the person who believes that they can deliver that service internally will take your job. You can argue about money or funding, but the challenge is to make it work with what you have, prove you can do more with less, than slowly ask for more ONCE YOU HAVE PROVED YOU CAN DELIVER. The default answer for most support departments will be the same as they gave to users … ‘no’.

  3. Bob

    You fail to realize that It departments are run pressure to practice under established rules. Great that you bring in new tech into the work environment, but not so great if you want it to work with the organization’s infrastructure.

    Risk is still an issue and will not go away. Blame for intrusions or hacking exploits will be blamed on the IT department, and its help desk. You cannot get a way from that, and as you have worked in that environment you will have to agree with me.

    Cloud? Absolutely more important to keep that free from dodgy code. I can start digging into ISO 9000 and its impacts to your argument.

    If I had a platform that ran on one piece of hardware I would discourage the use of anything other than that said platform, if not totally ban any other platform that would be able to connect to the network infrastructure. You install an app that tell you the train times, but it has code that can hack and control into the network. Who is to blame when the network gets hacked? Are you home audited? Is your home consumer devices audited?

    Then there is the cost of training staff for supporting every bit of mobile crap out there, connection issues (been there got the T shirt) galore. No I applaud those who refuse access to their network via a device that is not audited and approved for corporate network use.

    Think of it as the best CSR driver.

    1. Gary Burt Post author

      I fully realize the pressure that IT departments are under and have sympathy with many, but security risks cannot be used as a catch-all reason to say ‘no’. This is what has been used in the past, and it is what has in many cases destroyed productivity and rocketed costs – both for IT teams and for the end-user. Forward looking companies and government too are shifting to a policy of enablement – that looks to define what is possible – and challenging security teams to be a part of the discussion, but focused on finding ways to get things working.

      Security is needed, but it needs to be appropriate to the risk, and balanced with usability. IT departments should help users understand what is possible, rather than what is not and enable not disable.

      What has perhaps been missed from this discussion is the issue of responsibility. If users want more flexibility and functionality, then they need to take responsibility for this – but again, this should be simple and reasonable to the task being accomplished.

      – Do all users need smartcards for email? In almost all companies absolutely not.
      – Should home bought devices be able to access corporate networks directly without any quaranteen or security validation? No.

      Between these two extremes there is a workable middle ground.

      To use an analogy … from my kids lives (and mine)

      – A playground closed for safety reasons may be safe, but is useless as a playground.
      – A foam covered playground is safe, but useless in that it is no fun, and offers little value for play
      – What is needed is a safe playground.
      – Children can get hurt, but not kill themselves. Injuries are possible, but also manageable.
      – I don’t want my kids playing in a playground with broken equipment, unsafe rides and dirty needles, but if the playground is safe and fun, a broken arm or collar bone is a risk that they face. If they play sensibly, they will be fine, if they take risks, they can get hurt.

      The same is true with corporate IT. Create safe enough spaces and trust the people who use them.


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