Envisioning and shaping the future of work and business.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Organizations need to take consumerization of IT seriously

The consumerization of IT is about new technologies being introduced on the consumer markets before they are introduced on the industrial markets. This is a trend which Gartner says “will be the most significant trend affecting information technology (IT) during the next 10 years means”.

Imagine having only one calendar, one user account, one address book, one mobile phone, one computer, one external storage, one application of each kind, one version of each application, and so on instead of having different ones for different environments such as work and home. Wouldn’t that simplify some things? It sure would for me. I currently carry two laptops in my bag (one from my consultant firm, one from a customer) besides the one I have at home. What makes me stand this heavy burden is that I can access my online apps such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar (synchronized with my Exchange account at work) and Google Reader from any computer and also from my smartphone. Otherwise I would be in File Management Hell. I would have spend a lot of time and energy shuffling files between computers via different e-mail accounts or USB sticks, working with multiple calendars and converting files between Office 2002, Office XP and Office 2007.

As information technology is becoming an integrated and natural part of our entire lives (not just the work part) more and more people are getting a better and better understanding of how IT can be used to simplify, enrich and in other ways add value to their lives. They have clear ideas of what they need or want and how they want things to work. As a result, their expectations and what they require from their work environment in terms of IT support is increasing. Just as organizations are trying to break down their silos and integrate different units better to improve communication, collaboration and information exchange, employees are expecting their employers to make it possible and easy for them to integrate their personal lives (consumer applications and devices) with their work lives.

An important point here is that employees should not be expected to cut off their personal lives from their work environments while at the same time be expected to work “anywhere, anyplace, anytime”. Being always connected means that we should always be able to stay connected to every part of our lives – work, friends, family, and activities of various kinds. Being always connected enables us to make faster transitions between different environments where we operate – we don’t have to change physical environments just because we have a different kind of task at hand. If we are able to keep ourselves up-to-date and to control all parts of our lives “anywhere, anyplace, anytime”, then we are likely to reduce the stress that comes from not being able to control our lives.

Organizations who do not let employees access online apps such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Gmail are in fact building barriers for people instead of removing barriers. They make it harder for people rather than to simplify for them. They are disempowering them. That is why people bring their personal devices to work. And with the consumerization of IT, they have access to the latest technologies and tools.

What does this means for organizations? Well, management and IT departments should focus more on trying to empower the people within their own organization. They should trust them enough to provide them the mandate and tools to shape and control their own working environment and how they use it. One important part of this is to break down the barriers between the work part of people’s lives and the other parts. Doing so will empower the people and allocate more energy and motivation so they can contribute more to the well-being of the entire organization. It is my firm belief that people who have a rich social (online and/or offline) life are also open-minded and more willing to share things with others. As a result, they are also more likely to contribute to a richer, more collaborative and more productive work environment.

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