Consumerization of IT: Avoiding the tyranny of tools

It is admittedly cliché to talk about how simple the world was when we grew up.  But like many things cliché, this simplicity perception holds more than a kernel of truth and nowhere is this more true than in the areas of tools and choices. We have an explosion of tools and choices in our personal life and, increasingly, in our business world as well.

World of few tools

In 1975, if you wanted to communicate with your grandparents who lived in another state, you basically had two tool options; the telephone or mail.  Each tool had a limited set of associated choices, like when to call or how many pages you could include before incurring additional postage.

Music functioned much the same way.  What started as music on 33 RPM records played on a turntable became a cassette player and then a Walkman, but still fundamentally the same tool with a couple of switches, just updated.  We grew up in a world of tool and choice scarcity.

Tool-abundant world

What a difference a few decades has made. Want your kids to talk to your parents back on the East Coast?  No problem.  You can choose from a cell or landline phone, mail provided you can find a stamp, email from any one of your six accounts, FaceBook, Google+, Skype, and Facetime.

Music is no different: You can choose from iTunes, Groveshark, Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes and use them in many ways. We suddenly live in a world of abundant tools and choices and what may seem like a good thing is also very potentially chaotic.

The tyranny part

I’m all for choice. The challenge, however, is that none of us have ever been trained in how to deal with this onslaught of tools and choices. Organizations face this challenge but on a much larger scale.  The CIO’s challenge has fundamentally changed from managing technology that provides automation and cost savings to becoming a filter of ideas and technology that could quickly slip the enterprise into chaos.

Where to go

Consumerization of IT has put enormous power in the hands of people who aren’t accountable for the chaos that results from poor filtering of choices. IT can easily look outdated and defensive. So how does a CIO survive in this landscape?

  • Filter the incremental without missing the trend – Several friends have suggested Pinterest but I don’t see where it fits in my personal technology ecosystems. I’ll pass…for now. Organizations need to be able to filter, pass and stay open minded to ideas that may become more valuable at a future point.
  • Avoid the brittle: I was recently at a cross industry business process meeting hosted by APQC. Each attendee had a similar problem of how to communicate process to the end user in a meaningful way. Their solutions were a homegrown and brittle series of tools cobbled together rather than something coherent and purpose-built for the enterprise. Theirs were clever approaches, but the net result was chaotic and very, very brittle.
  • Balance gatekeeper with innovator:  Small, clever software companies now go directly to the business with the concepts being sold to the consumer world. Mobile, social, gaming are all hot but potentially chaos for the IT department. To avoid being seen as an angry gatekeeper, IT needs to partner with the business and be seen as an advisor on choices or face being seen as irrelevant.
The consumerization of IT holds enormous potential for cheaper, better ways of doing business. It will take savvy CIO’s to steer through the new landscape without being seen as a unnecessary barrier or ‘old school’. I’m glad I’m on the other side…

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Categories: Consumerization, Disciplines, Information Technology

Author:Tom Molyneux

A business process strategist with a focus on real-time event management.

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3 Comments on “Consumerization of IT: Avoiding the tyranny of tools”

  1. June 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Tom, as always, an excellent piece. As a producer of “tools” myself, I would add to the pile of challenges that of getting caught up in features and functions and losing sight of needs. Put another way, if all you need to do is drive a couple nails, get a hammer. Sure, the nail gun with the 50 gallon tank and variable depth control will also drive those nails, but by the time you set the thing up and figure out how to use it, you could have been done with the job.

    As a designer of software, I am always being bombarded with ideas to add capability to our product and make it more useful. I am acutely aware that, if I’m not careful, I will cross the line from hammer to nail gun. When companies start looking for a new tool, the vendors will give them many compelling reasons why all their bells and whistles are important. Many of those implementations fall flat on their face as a result of the complexity.

    Just one more way that too many choices can sometimes be a bad thing.

  2. June 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Tom, I like your hammer analogy. Choice taken to extreme levels breeds confusion. Seth Godin has a great video here on the failure of sliced bread where he covers the downside of too much choice. . There is a great photo at about 3:45 of the choices we all face every day.


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    […] standard for mobility. Then along came the BYOD movement, part of what Forrester called the ‘consumerization of IT’, a trend that allowed employees to use their own personal gadgets in the corporate environment, […]

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