Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Real Consumerization of IT, Part 1

Rising user tech IQ, easier-to-use gadgets and the transformation of users into consumers is changing the landscape of IT.

Lately I have been writing quite a few columns on the future of Microsoft, its various products and the IT industry as a whole. The reason for all of these posts is simple. I have worked in IT for over 20 years and I cannot think of another period of time in which I have seen the potential for such radical transformation. That's a big statement when you consider that less than 15 years ago most households did not even have Internet access.

For this blog post I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about how I see IT jobs changing in the future. Contrary to what some people have predicted, I do not believe that corporate IT is going away any time soon. However, I think that the role of corporate IT is about to change as a result of the consumerization of IT.

When most people talk about the consumerization of IT, the discussion typically centers around end users who want to use their iPad to access corporate resources. Even though the BYOD trend is an undeniable part of the consumerization of IT, I think that most people overlook the big picture. There are three fundamental truths related to the consumerization of IT that I believe will shape IT over the next few years. These truths are:

  • Consumers have become far more tech savvy.
  • The technology industry tries to appeal to a broader range of consumers by dumbing down tech products.
  • Corporate IT is turning users into consumers.

Tech-Saavy Consumers
These statements obviously need a little bit of clarification. Let's start with the idea that consumers are becoming more tech savvy. The idea behind this statement is that technologies that once appealed only to IT professionals and to hard-core geeks have been embraced by consumers. Let me give you an example.

Back in the late '90s I deployed my first wireless access point. The wireless access point cost many thousands of dollars and you practically needed a PhD in computer science to get it working. Today however, almost everybody that I know has a wireless access point in their home.

The same concept also applies to smartphones. My first smart phone was based on Windows CE. When I would use it, I sometimes had people asking me what it was. I once offered to let my father use it to make a phone call, and he refused because he was intimidated by the device. Of course today the very premise of this sounds ridiculous. Everybody has a smartphone. My point is that consumers are becoming more tech savvy and are embracing devices and technologies that at one time only appealed to geeks.

Dumbed-Down Tech
Of course you can't give consumers all the credit. This leads me to my second point. Some technologies have been dumbed down as a way of making them more appealing to consumers. Think about my earlier example of a wireless access point. Once upon a time, the process of configuring a wireless access point was very similar to that of configuring a router on a corporate network. Today however, a consumer can configure a wireless access point with just a few mouse clicks.

Some might be quick to point out that it is unfair to compare consumer-grade wireless routers with enterprise-grade routers. While I do admit that it is an unfair comparison, it also underscores my point. In the not-too-distant past there was no such thing as a consumer-grade router. Routers, which by their very nature are relatively complex devices, have been dumbed down and automated in a way that helps them to appeal to consumers. Most consumer-grade routers do offer some advanced features, but these features are typically disabled by default and most consumers probably don't even know that those features exist.

In other words, consumer-grade wireless routers are designed in a way that allows a consumer with basic computer skills and no enterprise networking experience to deploy and configure the router with minimal effort.

Users Becoming Consumers
The third fundamental truth that I have observed is that corporate IT is turning end users into consumers. There was once a time when IT administrators kept an iron-fisted control over all aspects of the network. Today it is not uncommon for larger organizations to offer users various self-service mechanisms. For instance an authorized user might use a self-service portal to create a virtual machine without assistance from the IT department (beyond initially granting the necessary permissions and allocating the required resources to the user). The user who created the virtual machines is then able to use them for whatever purposes they see fit.

My point is that the once-tedious task of provisioning virtual machines has been automated and simplified so that an end user with basic skills and little to no server virtualization experience can create and provision virtual machines through a Web portal.

So how will these trends play out and what do they mean for IT pros? I'll answer that question in the second part of this two-part series.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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