Q&A: Why Consumerization Won't Kill Corporate IT

The consumerization of IT is old news at this point, since workers have been bringing their iPhones and Android-based devices to work for years now.

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But with cloud-based technologies finally maturing, more of the nuts-and-bolts functions of IT departments are being outsourced to cloud vendors. So does this mean the death of the corporate IT department? Hardly, says Forrester Research analyst Matthew Brown, who says that the consumerization of IT is now freeing up corporate IT departments to perform more complicated tasks that will add more value to their companies. In this question-and-answer session we'll talk with Brown about the opportunities increased consumerization will bring for IT professionals.

So why is consumerization not the death of IT?

It's an absurd thing to say. Some people are claiming that as technology is easier to consume and provision in a self-service manner, then the role of IT goes away. That is based on a principle that all IT does is perform low-value activities around maintaining the store. In fact if you look at IT you can see that what they should be doing is more value-added activities such as building new applications and services.

If you walk around to any IT department you see that IT is always capacity constrained and there's more demand for their services than they're able to deliver. The age of consumerization hasn't made a dent in the demand for IT services and what I'm finding is there are lots of folks out there who like to take extremist views to get attention when there's no evidence that consumerization is anywhere near replacing IT.

You mentioned that this will free up IT workers to do things that add more value to their business. Can you give examples?

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During our conference last week we heard from Roberta Cadieux, the director of information systems for service delivery for Kraft Foods, who has put together efforts to transform the entire workplace experience, such as implementing more video-based technologies and large-scale implementations of social tools inside the company. She has invested in that to drive more collaboration among workers. She has also set up "IQ Bars" that are similar to Apple's Genius Bars where people at the office can go to ask questions and get their systems fixed. It's a modernized version of the IT help desk.

Implementing more video and social networking capabilities has also allowed the company to say, "We don't need as many facilities," and they've downsized some of their real estate contracts. Or when they implement VoIP you see they don't have to spend money on traditional phone lines. So it's not just about putting in new services they didn't have before but taking some costs out; and there's no sign that her work has done. Her team used to spend 80% of their time updating systems or resetting passwords for people, but they are now having a bigger impact on their business.

If you're an IT guy who has specialized in more of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the business, what skills should you acquire to keep yourself relevant?

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I think lot of it gets down to fundamental business skills and the basics of marketing communications that influence of business decisions. The most powerful eye-opener at our conference last week came from IT professionals that had done front-end concept developments and marketing for new technology and had used video to communicate a vision of these new possibilities to the people in charge of investing in new technology. If you're an IT guy who's never taken an IT finance course that's absolutely something you need to do.

At the end of the day there will still be a market for the IT person who is essentially working at keeping the lights on, but many of those jobs will be at major cloud providers. There will also be opportunities for people to help keep the lights on at companies that never intend to move to the cloud, especially the financially-regulated companies.

In what other ways is IT becoming consumerized?

There are some interesting trends for enterprise application marketplaces. A lot of companies have looked at the model Apple has created and said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could have a central hub to let people self-service their applications?" There are interesting advantages from workers' perspective as well because, for instance, there could be an expense-management app that I could take on the road with me so I don't have to keep such extensive expense reports.

With the cloud it becomes an issue of risk but it also comes with enormous opportunities. I had a guy from Fishbowl Solutions last week talk about how he built an app for the iPad for sales professionals for medical devices. In that market there's an enormous amount of documentation that has to take place for each sale. And he enabled a Web center that went through the cloud out to the iPad to provide sales people with all the sales information they need. That's a really powerful story around consumerized devices and cloud services working together to create a really big opportunity.

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