Consumerization of IT: Lessons for enterprise applications

IT is inadequately prepared to fully exploit the opportunity that all those consumer devices in the workplace represent

The consumerization of IT is real. A recent IDC survey sponsored by Unisys showed that 40% of devices used to access business applications are personally owned, up 10 percentage points from 2010.

But IT remains inadequately prepared and is showing signs that it hasn't sought to fully exploit this opportunity. The same survey found that more than three out of four organizations have no business applications for smart mobile devices and have no plans to create applications for these devices over the next several months. This gap was evident in both internally facing applications and customer-facing applications.

The most aggressive IT departments will give their businesses a leg up by moving to close this gap. Given the potential of mobile devices to increase employee productivity and provide new ways to interact with customers, it's a key opportunity for enterprise IT to exploit.

By embracing the consumerization of IT and giving users fuller work-related utility of their mobile devices, enterprise IT can tap into consumer devices that today are more powerful and productive than their corporate-issued counterparts.

IT should also take a cue from the Apple App Store and the Android Market and make applications easy to find, easy to install, easy to use and easy to upgrade. And it should provide apps that effortlessly tap into underlying hardware capabilities.

Think how empowering it would be for employees in the field to have access on their smartphones and tablet computers to applications such as field force automation, sales force automation and executive dashboards. Imagine the edge a company would have if its IT was the first to roll out applications that let customers and partners interact with the business anytime and anywhere via their mobile devices.

Mobile enablement is also an opportunity to rethink and redesign business models and processes, so that you fully leverage the new platforms' capabilities and not simply mobile-enable existing processes.

Quite simply, the consumerization of IT is a disruptive trend, and the best way to meet a disruptive trend is head-on, anticipating the changes it will bring and exploiting those changes for competitive advantage. Other disruptive trends, such as social computing, cloud computing, IT appliances and smart computing, offer a glimpse of what the future of enterprise applications may be all about. For example, it may make sense to social-enable certain transactional business applications so that knowledge workers can collaborate in areas such as exception handling within the context of the application instead of via such workarounds as in-person meetings, phone calls or e-mail. It may make sense to move development and test environments to a cloud-based platform or to run some or all of an application in a public or private cloud based on the characteristics of the workload. It may make sense to leverage applications as part of an integrated hardware and software stack as offered by specialized appliances, for plug-and-play simplicity. And in the data center, it may make sense to use smart computing to make intelligent decisions about how and where to execute workloads based on parameters such as energy usage patterns.

In short, we now have far more choice and flexibility in how we access our applications and how we manage and execute our workloads. Rather than a fixed, one-to-one relationship between a specific client device and a specific server in the data center, we can now truly mix and match our next-generation building blocks at all levels within the IT stack. This helps to optimize the experience and business value for end users and to optimize the cost, security and management requirements for IT.

The new challenge for IT and for enterprise application owners will not be around technology and standards -- setting limits and narrowing choice -- but around helping manage this new hybrid infrastructure and in providing guidance to the business on the optimal deployment models for application productivity. IT is truly moving from a custodian role of setting standards and constraints to a far more strategic, trusted advisory role helping to guide key technology, policy and business-related considerations.

Nicholas D. Evans leads the Strategic Innovation Program at Unisys and was one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009. He can be reached at nicholas.evans@unisys.com.

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