When evaluating the adoption of mobile enterprise applications, it's important to understand the overall trends driving the adoption of the iPad within the enterprise. As I worked on the book "iPad in the Enterprise: Developing and Deploying Business Applications," I spoke to, interviewed, and received feedback from dozens of technology authors, industry analysts, enterprise software executives, Fortune 1000 CIOs, and other visionaries of enterprise IT. I felt that the best way to explore this concept was to hear from those industry leaders directly.
Although the iPad is an extremely polarizing topic on its own, the concept of the "consumerization of IT" is even more controversial. I spoke to nearly as many people who were unwilling to go on the record as to those who allowed me to quote them in the book.
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The term "consumerization" first gained popularity in 2001 when it was used by Douglas Neal and John Taylor as a description for how information technology innovation was emerging in consumer-based technology, with the expectation it would eventually migrate into the enterprise.
A sea change in the IT/user relationship
At first glance, the idea of consumerization might appear unlikely to have a big impact on the IT industry landscape and power structure of enterprise IT. Does consumerization really challenge the status quo of enterprise IT? Back in 2005, Gartner suggested it would.
That year, Gartner released a report saying, "The growing practice of introducing new technologies into consumer markets prior to industrial markets will be the most significant trend affecting information technology during the next 10 years."
In late 2010, Stephen Prentice, a Gartner fellow and vice president, wrote a Gartner CEO advisory titled "Seize the iPad Opportunity Now." But as early as 2005, he had written: "As perceptive CIOs seek to transform their rigid, legacy ridden infrastructures into agile, efficient, service-driven delivery mechanisms, they must adopt a pragmatic approach to managing the risks of consumer IT while embracing the benefits. Otherwise, the CIOs risk being sidelined as the 'enemy' by their constituencies."
In 2005, the idea promoted by Gartner that consumerization would be the most important trend of the next decade might have been controversial. But traction from the iPhone, which went from 0 percent adoption to 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies between June 2008 and June 2010, undeniably demonstrates the powerful impact of this trend.
Even so, Philippe Winthrop, founder and managing director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, believes that the mobile consumerization trend demonstrated by the iPhone (and now the iPad) is subtly different from the general trend of consumerization.
According to Winthrop, "The consumerization of enterprise mobility is slightly nuanced from the consumerization of general IT. First and foremost, the price points make mobile devices far more accessible than other computing devices. Second, the massive diversity of applications, and the ease of purchase and installation of these applications is very different from what IT departments are typically used to. Forward-thinking companies have recognized the opportunity to embrace, as opposed to fight, this change and use it to their advantage. True ROI is still elusive in many cases, but there is no question that the future of the workplace is predicated on the use of mobile devices and applications."
How Hyatt embraced the "consumerization of IT" relationship
But what does the "consumerization of IT" actually mean to a corporate leader of information technology? In my search for a clear definition of this concept, one of the best explanations I've heard was from Mike Blake, the CIO of Hyatt Hotels. He shared with me the journey that Hyatt went through to both recognize and then ultimately embrace this trend of consumerization with the iPad. In Blake's words:
When iPad came out it was the latest "shiny object" introduced by one of the most innovative companies in the world. Everyone had to have one, yet no one really knew what it was for. The power in the product, aside from its beautiful design and solid operating system, was found in the spark that it created in the imagination of its users. Users were defining ways of leveraging the tool to prove that it is more than just flash, that it could offer true utility.
In our case, IT embraced the iPad from day one, helping to get the product out into as many people's hands as possible. From that grassroots trial we have found ways of serving our customers in new ways, and providing powerful tools to our employees that they truly enjoy using. That's where consumerization of IT really comes into play. It is IT recognizing the power of a consumer product, cultivating it, and giving it a fair chance to succeed. We have shed our arrogance, but we keep a little bit of our skepticism and our conservative approach to make sure the enterprise systems are still secure and our help desks are not overwhelmed.
IT's acceptance of consumerized technologies in the enterprise has led us to enable a more agile organization with users empowered with choice in selecting their computing platform preference. In fact, IT's embracing of these technologies has helped to propel a more positive view of IT. Where IT was previously considered to be rigid and dictatorial, it is now viewed as a true partner who proactively works with the business and uses consumer technologies to help solve critical business issues.
The end result is that employees are able to get the data and information they need to better inform decisions. These consumerized tools enable people to better use and interpret information: they are easier to maintain, and have a higher satisfaction level with the user base than any previous generation of tools.
I believe Blake has demonstrated that the "consumerization of IT" is ultimately a positive trend for corporations. It may involve painful changes in the status quo of corporate IT, including, as Blake said, how IT groups have to "shed our arrogance" to give the underlying technology a chance to succeed. But this trend provides the business, the entire company, and even the whole economy with an improvement in efficiency, productivity, and profit.
The upside to IT of the "consumerization of IT' trend
So how long has this consumerization trend been going on? Is the iPad acting as a catalyst, or has the trend been persisting for a while?
Scot Finnie, the editor-in-chief of Computerworld, believes that consumerization has been happening for a long time. He says, "The rise of consumerization of IT has become highly visible over the past several years. The immediate causes of the trend include the prevalence of powerful and versatile smartphones and tablets, the popularity of simple and useful mobile apps, and the recession, which has driven the need for greater levels of productivity and effectively longer workdays.
"Even so," Finnie continues, "the consumerization of IT has been evident for 20 years, beginning with the advent of the personal computer. Microsoft, for example, rose to dominance in the early 1990s in part on its intense focus on the end-user usability of its operating systems and applications. Apple, of course, has been a consumer electronics company for some time. The key for IT organizations is to recognize and embrace massive consumer trends, because they almost always manifest themselves in business environments, as well. Enterprises ignore or attempt to thwart the consumerization of IT at their own peril."
There is a big upside to the business if IT embraces consumerization. The upside is that the users themselves are bringing the latest technology into the company sooner than would otherwise happen. That can mean better integration, better communication, better tools, and ultimately a competitive advantage for the company.
Finnie offers hope to discouraged leaders: "At its core, the consumerization of IT is about employee freedom and employee productivity. At some point you have to just trust your employees and not only let them do their jobs better, but support them in doing so. The ROI will follow."
Donald Ferguson, CTO at CA Technologies, agrees with Finnie, saying, "The consumerization of IT has been gradually occurring for years. The iPhone followed by the iPad has made 'consumerized IT' the new normal. Enterprises can enable and support iPhone, iPad, and new consumer devices -- or their employees will go around IT."
Frank Slootman, the former CEO at Data Domain and executive chairman of the BRS Division at EMC, shares similar sentiments: "Consumerization of IT is not a new phenomenon with the emergence of the iPad or even the smartphone. As far back as the mid-1980s, the very first Macs and LaserWriters were ushered into departments of the enterprise completely against the tightly locked-down policies of the IT department who refused to support them. It is an unstoppable grassroots dynamic many decades underway. I am sure we ain't seen nothing yet."
Consumer technology now comes in through the front door
Consumer technology is walking in the front door of the corporation, and Eric Openshaw, principal and vice chairman at Deloitte, says this trend is just as prevalent in the executive suite as it is on the front lines of the enterprise.
He observed, "The seemingly insatiable appetite for corporate adoption of tablets -- and the iPad as a proxy for that broader adoption -- reflects a fundamental shift from IT driving the how, when, what, and where of technology use toward the user dictating those parameters. It's fascinating that this is being driven both from the bottom up and the top down. In this case, people fresh out of school and CEOs alike have embraced an unobtrusive device that supports many if not all of their personal and professional computing needs."
According to Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad and CTO at electronics retailer Best Buy, the iPad is facilitating an even more fundamental shift within the enterprise: user-driven design, which is driving improvements in business processes. "Up until recently," Stephens says, "most business executives didn't have any confidence to know what to ask IT for. But now they see that they can track a FedEx package right from the iPad, and see where it is or who signed for it. You can customize and order a pizza from Papa John's right from your iPhone. IT no longer has the unique set of knowledge about what is possible. The user now knows what they want, and they can and will demand it from IT."
Although the debate around the impact of consumerization will no doubt continue for some time, the adoption of mobile technologies and enterprise applications is moving forward, whether or not IT departments are on board.
Based on the opinions of those I spoke with, it is the role of IT to evaluate the opportunities that come with consumer technologies, weigh the risks and benefits, and define a strategic plan for the future. For those CIOs and IT managers new to the conversation, the good news is that it's a topic that everyone seems to be talking about.
This story, "How the iPad will change IT forever," was originally published at InfoWorld.com and is excerpted with permission from "iPad in the Enterprise: Developing and Deploying Business Applications" (copyrighted 2011 by Wiley Publishing). Follow the latest developments in IT management and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.