Consumerization of IT - good, bad, or just the way things are now?

You used to be able to debate if the consumerization of IT would happen, now we're left to wonder if it was good or bad or just a fact of life.

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According to a report by CIO.com, next week's CEBIT show in Germany will see the return of a number of consumer technology makers. CEBIT is generally a professional IT-oriented show and many consumer device manufacturers abandoned the show in favor of Germany's more gadget and end user focused IFA show. However, the consumer device presence during CEBIT this year will be bigger than in recent memory.

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One of the trends that can be cited for this is the computerization of IT and workplace technology. The phrase computerization of IT has been floating around for the past two or three years. Initially it had a somewhat derogatory and dismissive meaning, describing organizations that were allowing consumer devices and online services like iPhones and Twitter to find accepting homes in a business environment (either explicitly or unintentionally).

A lot has changed in the past few years. Keeping the consumer-type technologies out of the workplace simply isn't feasible these days. The sheer number of devices in employee hands, many of which include their own access to the Internet, makes policing the situation a constant maddening task at best. In fact, it's more apt to simply be unrealistic or impossible. Certainly in today's economy where IT departments are being asked to do more with less, it seems like a waste of needed resources.

As a result many organizations have tolerated the fact that the computerization of IT has already occurred (or is in the process of occurring). Some have even embraced the fact and used it to their advantage by actively encouraging users to bring their own smartphones, iPads, and even PCs into the workplace. After all, it keeps the employees happy, saves money, and gives IT some hope of keeping track of what devices are being used and how. That approach may even help IT managers head off potential threats by enabling secure access to resource on employee devices.

Even through I'm firmly in the camp that this is what the technology landscape of today and tomorrow looks like for most organizations, I can't help but wonder if it's overall good or bad for the business of IT.

On one hand, it can reduce overall expenditures while opening up mobile access to a wider segment of the workforce. As the current generation of mobile platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry/QNX, webOS, and maybe even Windows Phone 7) develop and become more robust, they are offering workers ways to accomplish both new and existing tasks in innovative ways – in some professions like healthcare and education, those new ways of doing things are revolutionary. The great presence of consumer technology also gives employees a stake and sense of ownership in the technology and corporate resources they use. That can translate into a more comfortable working relationship with IT compared to the old-school us vs. them interaction common in most businesses and schools in the past.

On the other hand, IT's role has significantly changed. CIOs and everyone under them must deal with a ever widening range of technologies, some of which aren't easy to secure or support. Mobile technology in itself poses risks even when IT is firmly in charge. While there are all those new ways technology empowers users, IT generally needs to figure out what those ways are and make them happen (or at least understand them in case something goes wrong).

As with many things in life, the computerization of IT isn't black and white, good or bad. There are some incredible advantages and new risks and demands. One thing is crystal clear: the role of IT has changed dramatically from what it was five years ago. For CIOs and IT managers to be successful in this new era of IT, they will need to fearlessly reexamine much of what has traditionally been accepted as the only way to approach things. Those things may be procurement, project development, user interaction, training, support, and just about everything else. I suspect the ones that will succeed most are those that see these changes as opportunities to innovate rather than dreaded changes that make them long for the good old days.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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