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The real force behind the consumerization of IT

You can blame the iPhone,, and Facebook, but the truth is that business itself has driven the shift to employee-directed tech

By Galen Gruman
January 3, 2012 10:03 AM ET

InfoWorld - I have yet to meet an IT exec or CIO for whom the "consumerization of IT" -- employees asserting control over the technology they use for work -- isn't now a major area of contemplation ... and sometimes consternation. But there's more to the trend than Apple-blinded employees bringing Macs, iPhones, and iPads into the office, even if they are the most identifiable champions of this trend. Let me take you through the key issues behind the consumerization -- there's much more to it than mobile devices.

Two years ago, iPhones started appearing in the office, often connecting to corporate email and Wi-Fi networks. For many, that marked the beginning of the phenomenon known as the consumerization of IT, but it started years before the iPhone. People have been using their home PCs and Macs -- systems not typically under strict IT management -- for years, and created a booming business selling cloud-based salesforce automation software directly to business execs, explicitly and proudly bypassing IT, half a decade ago.

[ Learn about consumerization of IT in person March 4-6, 2012, at IDG's CITE conference in San Francisco. | Understand the consumerization of IT issues from the perspectives of both users and IT in InfoWorld's "Smart User" column. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. ]

As is usually the case with anything new, the IT reaction was to say no, and fears about security breaches quickly became the justifications for the policy. But just as with the home computer, public hotspot, and phenomena that came before, the cost savings, lack of actual significant security problems, and executive joy at the new technology forced IT to move from "no" to "how."

The roots stretch back to the 1960s

But anyone who believes the consumerization phenomenon is driven by just technology is missing the point. The real change -- and why it's ultimately not an IT decision -- is in business itself. The 1950s were the pinnacle of the hierarchical, military-style "company man" business -- a consequence of the mass of military-trained World War II soldiers returning to the workforce. Then came the 1960s and 1970s, where individuals asserted their rights as individuals and as members of minority and other groups. The 1980s saw a deconstruction of the corporation into a flatter model, with fewer middle managers and more employee empowerment.

In manufacturing, this became highly codified, using techniques from management gurus such as W. Edwards Deming, including the use of Lean and Six Sigma coupled with employee co-ownership in the form of quality circles and Toyota's "anyone can stop the assembly line" philosophy. The 1990s and 2000s saw a continuing hollowing out of middle management, the introduction of part-time and contract labor forces, and the replacement of routine work with robots, software, and offshore workers (in societies that largely had no individual-empowerment culture).

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Reprinted with permission from InfoWorld. Story copyright 2012 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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