Consumerization: The view from IT you may not like but need to hear

A CTO argues why IT's seemingly silly and overly strict rules are in fact necessary and good

An underlying tension in the movement for the consumerization of IT concerns the limits that IT often places on users. Many users believe them to be arbitrary, overly strict, and motivated by a need for control rather than legitimate business protection. For them, the triumph of the iPhone and the subsequent bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon is a chance to rub it in.

I don't believe it should be a case of IT versus user, though I understand the impulse. I've argued that IT needs to get a clue that users now have the means to use their own technology, and the old model of managing away the "toys" is no longer plausible. IT needs to rethink its relationship with the users, and users need to take responsibility for their actions as well -- not rely on IT to protect them, then penalize IT when it fails.

[ Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today, then join the #CoIT discussion at InfoWorld's "Consumerization" LinkedIn group. | See Galen Gruman's presentation on the real force behind the consumerization of IT. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. ]

But many in IT have lambasted me for egging on users who will in their view ultimately leak sensitive data or cause other major damage. For example, one guy ("preed," whose Twitter profile says he is a software engineer) tweeted, "Can't wait until @infoworld reporter @MobileGalen's identity gets stolen, due to his let-employees-do-whatever-they-want advice.'" I've never advocated that, but it's clear the nuances of my writing were obliterated in his mind by the very notion that users might need to be ceded some ownership.

Another IT guy who objects to my encouragement of the consumerization of IT is Sean P. Silverman, CTO of Bartlett Tech, a firm that builds and manages technology infrastructure for business clients. In a series of email exchanges, Silverman made it clear he believes consumerization on the whole is a bad thing because consumer devices lack the quality and consistency that IT needs -- and has been able to purchase, such as PCs available for more than just a few months and stable OSes. Plus, consumerization in his mind encourages "settling, not striving," as the fast pace of new devices means IT can rarely do an effective job of validating and supporting new technologies. The department either has to compromise the business operations or be labeled an impediment to the business's agility.

Unlike "preed," Silverman engaged in a constructive if passioned dialog, and I thought his points were worth considering. Even if you don't agree with them all, they show the pressures and perspectives common to many in IT -- who are after all as much a part of the consumerization-of-IT phenomenon as users are.

What follows is an edited version of Silverman's position, with his comments block-indented and mine aligned fully to the left.

You've written much for InfoWorld promoting the concept of consumerization of IT, especially around the BYOD phenomenon. You have acknowledged the need for security, standards, and policy-based management, but I believe it's not as simple as that. Let me explain how I see the issue from vantage point of being a system administrator.

This trend began largely with the iPhone, and it is most certainly a point of contention. However, a system administrator or CTO who refuses to embrace new tech would have to be one miserable soul. One of the best parts of my job is that I gain firsthand experience with all kinds of gadgets that I could not possibly afford to amass on my own.

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