What does all of this mean for the future of enterprise IT? Here are a few thoughts:
- The consumerization of IT will expand. As IT matures, it becomes increasingly commoditized, and once-specialty functions become available at lower price points to a wider audience, including consumers. As we all know, many of today's consumer smartphones and tablets are taking on significant roles within the enterprise in functions such as sales force and field force automation, displacing costly and proprietary solutions. The Unisys 2011 Consumerization of IT Study, conducted in conjunction with IDC, found that 40 percent of devices used by information workers to access business applications were personally owned, up from 30 percent the prior year.
- IT gets disintermediated. With powerful solutions freely available in the consumer marketplace, enterprise buyers within business units go outside of internal IT departments and procure technology themselves. This is an extension of the consumerization of IT and the resulting "bring your own device" policies, and it applies to entire organizational groups and business units within the enterprise.
- Complexity forces IT to change its role. IT increasingly sets policies and provides guidance around third-party technologies as opposed to building its own. IT becomes more of an adviser to the business and provides governance over externally procured technologies. Of course, not all consumer-purchased devices and applications work perfectly in an enterprise setting, so IT will continue to be an integrator and manager of technology, and its role in policy and governance will expand. The integration role is key, since consumer technologies used in an enterprise setting create difficult challenges; for example, there is often less vendor support, limited product road maps and a less predictable end-user experience.
- IT becomes a business function. As IT becomes more and more a part of the actual product or service delivered to customers, IT departments will increasingly become more of a business function. Here is the paradox for IT. As it gravitates away from technology assembly and moves more squarely into technology integration and higher-value functions to help manage and oversee all this hidden complexity, IT may well become more of a strategic adviser to the business. As an example, as organizations embrace today's disruptive IT trends such as cloud computing, social computing, mobility and big data, IT will play a key role in areas such as integrating public and private clouds, applying social computing within the enterprise for knowledge management and innovation, rethinking and often redesigning business processes in a new mobile context, and identifying patterns and business insights within masses of real-time data to help gain competitive advantage.
This new role for IT is already unfolding, fueled by the consumerization of IT and other disruptive IT trends. Still, the ultimate charter of IT remains, as it has for many decades, to use information technologies to benefit the business. Today, despite ongoing commoditization and complexity, IT has even more opportunity to make this a reality and drive transformational change for the business.
Nicholas D. Evans leads the Strategic Innovation Program for Unisys and was one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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