Hands off, IT: 5 key technologies users must own

Understanding why users focus on these technologies can help IT get the right support tools, while avoiding unnecessary ones

Most people I talk with conflate consumerization of IT with the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon ascribed to the iPhone and iPad users. That's hardly the case. In fact, the consumerization phenomenon predates the iPhone by many years.

I'd argue that Salesforce.com was the first big consumerization push into business, as the SaaS provider actively targeted business users and avoided IT in trying to get its technology adopted. Remember all those "No software" ads? They weren't meant to appeal to IT. You could even argue the Internet and its unrestrained access to the world at large was the first consumerization "weapon" -- or the PC before that.

[ Learn about consumerization of IT in person March 4-6, 2012, at IDG's CITE conference in San Francisco. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

Regardless of which innovation was the first to empower individual users technologically, it's clear that consumerization of IT is about user-driven technology of all sorts. BYOD has the distinction of being so visible and inexorable that it finally forced the consumerization trend into the open, with CIOs and IT publicly confronting an issue that many had been dealing with quietly for a while: Some technologies are truly user-centric and should be left as such.

Others have implications on the back end, where IT needs to be involved. Often, however, IT is told or tempted to get involved in every technology, which is a Sisyphean task it can't afford. IT must step back, first to understand what technologies users are owning and to determine where which really need IT involvement.

What technologies precisely are those in the empowered employees' quiver? There are five: mobile devices, cloud computing services, social technology, exploratory analytics, and specialty apps (that is, apps for the user's specific job, from presentation software to engineering calculators). Some research firms don't include the last one, and some add video to the mix -- a perennial prediction that's simply a communications format and not a tool in its own right like the others.

The list is short, but the tools that fall into these categories are many. If IT realized these categories, it might be better able to anticipate where user-driven technologies will come into play, as well as understand the underlying rationale for them. For example, smartphones and tablets make information of all varieties more accessible, they make computing more portable, and they make all sorts of communication easier in more contexts. Exploratory analytics -- especially when tapping into external unstructured data and big data sources to supplement the knowledge kept within the company -- let business users look for and theorize about possible market shifts and opportunities that maybe would increase revenues or decrease expenses.

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