The battlelines of consumerisation

We, along with many other technology companies, are talking at great length about the impact that increasingly easy-to-use consumer devices are having on the world of corporate IT.

At one end of the spectrum is the popularity of smart, touch screen (and often Apple-produced, if truth be told) devices that, according to one report that I saw today, people would be willing to give up free coffee, or even extra holiday to be able to use more readily in the work place. At the other end, the rise of Software as a Service, and Cloud providers like Salesforce who have made their market from aggressively advertising the lack of engagement required with the IT department to implement their services in a business.

As people of all generations become increasingly confident and competent with using Internet-based services on powerful, portable devices, it is easy to conclude that the IT department’s days are numbered – outwitted by Bring Your Own Device policies on the one hand, and the rise of browser-based services marketed direct to the using department on the other. The expectations that we all now have as empowered, web citizens are so great that we just won’t accept the shackles of traditional business computing in the workplace.

Whilst I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, I believe that there is one battleground that is getting little or no coverage, and is (possibly unfortunately) going to be business IT’s Alamo.

The last 40 years of management theory has had one mostly consistent theme: if you constantly bark orders at people, then they, over time, become demotivated and less productive. For the most part, in larger organisations, that principal has been well embedded into the management culture of today. Except when it comes to business systems.
Most systems that have been implemented into organisations to manage process do so using the motivational principals of the 1800s. Shout at people. Order them to do things. Refuse dissent. If you work in a large organisation, think about how often you receive automated email messages, telling you to do something and then telling you not to reply (“for this is but an automated communication…”).

Now, compare those process-centric systems with the world of the Web. Loose collaboration that finds itself used in many ways, from coordinating revolution (or thuggery); transactional systems that are a delight to use; realtime communications in audio and video that span the globe.

This is where the consumerisation fight is going to get nasty. Often now legacy systems, designed without thought for the human factors involved in using them (apart from maybe some light screed of User Interface), are going to become quickly and dangerously anachronistic in comparison to the heavily tested, motivational experiences that are the commercial Web. Here’s a benchmark: if your business system is less motivating to use than a tax return service then you’ve got problems on the horizon…

It’s not going to be enough to make these dictatorial systems accessible on an iPad – that will just accentuate their incongruity. And it’s not just IT departments that will need to rethink their approach to systems design; too often, management in organisations has been delegated to these business systems because actually managing change in behaviour would be too tricky. It’s all going to make for an interesting set of conversations in the next few years…

8 thoughts on “The battlelines of consumerisation

  1. Fascinating as ever, and I must concur. BYOD is important because it's symbolic – it represents the tipping point where we've now got better tech in our personal lives than at work. User standards and expectations are higher than ever and business hasn't adjusted. It's often not the IT department's fault; it's a company culture issue. As long as “disable and control” is the mantra, not “enable and empower”, UK plc will be the loser. Marketing departments are setting up YouTube channels whilst IT departments ban streaming media. This sort of disconnect disenfranchises employees and is a bit “boy with the finger in the dyke”.

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