How consumerization gives business an edge

Forward-thinking firms like Kraft didn't wait for employees to bring in consumer tech, but led the effort themselves

Kraft Foods, a forward-thinking giant when it comes to consumer taste, was anything but when it came to IT. Simply put, the company was mired in the old-school culture of rigid centralized information technology. Not anymore.

Kraft was one of the first major enterprises to recognize the value that consumer devices could produce for business -- and deploying the iPhone back in 2008, well before smartphones had become must-carry devices.

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By early 2009, almost half of the company's mobile users had an iPhone 3G, and the company was then ordering hundreds more every month. "We want to instill innovation in our culture," says Dave Diedrich, Kraft's vice president of information systems. "Seeing the innovation in iPhone opens our employees' minds to what's possible in their jobs."

It did just that. Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, who has written extensively about the consumerization of IT, says the success of the iPhone's internal deployment helped Kraft understand that it could be a powerful tool to reach consumers in new ways. As a result, Kraft developed its own iPhone app, which gives consumers access to thousands of recipes, a library of instructional cooking videos, full-meal shopping lists, and a store locator.

Kraft's story illustrates two of the four major benefits that the consumerization of IT can produce:

  1. Internal use to speed communications and to make mobile employees more efficient
  2. The use of consumer tools, particularly social networking, to be in touch with consumers and shape their attitudes toward your company
  3. Its use as a human resources tool: Young employees are using their smartphones and other devices all the time, and any company that refuses to let those devices inside the door, not to mention the firewall, will have difficulty attracting and retaining them
  4. Increased IT productivity: Although consumerization can seem like a burden to IT, it turns out that because so many consumer technologies are self-supported, if handled properly it can actually allow IT to do more with fewer traditional resources, says Phil Garland, a partner in PwC's CIO Advisory Services group

Consumerization "is deeper and much farther-reaching than simply allowing employees to bring their own personally purchased PCs and devices to work (also known as bring your own devices, or BYOD)," says IDC analyst Frank Gens. "It touches upon enterprise use of applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media with consumer roots, and is dramatically extending a wide range of employee-facing (internal) and customer- and partner-facing (external) business processes," he says.

Consumerization is spreading rapidly

"Consumerization is one of the first things we talk about when I meet with CIOs. It's top of mind," says Forrester's Schadler. That certainly wouldn't have been true even a few years ago.

But the issue has been forced as consumer devices have moved into the enterprise with surprising speed.

The reach of consumer tech in business

Schadler spotted the trend early on, and recalls that when he first wrote about the coming use of the iPhone in business, he was pilloried. "I was slammed by the BlackBerry fan boys," he says.

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