- Business IT support of consumer-side computing and communications long predates talk of ‘consumerization.’
- Consumerization’ drives complexity;IT departments will spend more to manage it all.
When people talk about the ‘consumerization of IT,’ the concept that technology starts in the consumer market and then spreads into the business, often what they really mean is: “Why doesn’t my company support my iDevice?” Consumerization is an effective shorthand term, but it does not reflect reality; the trend was around long before the term was coined, and technology-wise, there is not much new.
The influence of consumer-side computing and communications on IT departments predates Apple’s Macintosh. Many companies had to contend with, or at least ignore, ‘sneakernets’(employees who ported disks of files between home and work computers); forward-looking companies operated communications servers for their workers (modem banks to access functions and often up/download files remotely); and a few fortunate employees owned luggable computers they brought home, to work, and on the road.
The term ‘consumerization of IT’ also misses that consumer technology foundations came from research intended for business and government. Take the components of a smartphone: Apple’s devices drew on the University of Berkeley’s BSD Unix operating system and the Mach kernel. BSD Unix traces its heritage to AT&T BellLabs’ Unix, developed for AT&T’s internal use. The Mach kernel was developed with research grants at Carnegie Mellon University; it was designed for workstations long before Apple considered it for consumer devices. Android was sourced from Linux and GNU; it is not Unix, but its concepts and APIs were inspired by Unix. The Internet Protocol (IP) came from work famously funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Among wireless packet data’s first modern iterations were Ericsson Mobitex and Motorola DataTAC, originally deployed for field forces and emergency services. WiFi’s heritage includes point-of-sale applications work by AT&T and NCR.
Today’s mobile gadgets are reprising microcomputer trends from more than a decade ago, but with new form factors. Communications and security issues are taking a similar trajectory. What’s different now is that IT departments are increasingly asked to be responsible for the mobile end–user experience on these personal devices.
Paradoxically, supporting those consumer devices that are easy for the end user spikes complexity for the IT department, due to the different operating systems/versions and form factors. For microcomputers, the Internet and Web front ends became a great unifier (and Microsoft Windows the business operating system of default). Mobile devices now mean re-formatting online content and re-working applications for the small screen.
That’s where we are today. A recent Current Analysis survey of enterprise IT departments handling mobile device management showed that most (63%) respondents currently handle mobile security (including VPNs) in-house. Within two years, however, that will shift, as most (71%) respondents plan to offload these complex functions to external providers. So in the end, it looks like all that consumerization will end up driving a lot more revenues for back-end business products and services.