The march towards the consumerisation of the IT used by large organisations is appearing irresistible, writes Tom Rogerson, chief technology officer, financial services Europe, Computer Sciences Corporation.
Each day brings stories of new capabilities being added to Amazon's computing cloud, toGoogle's App Engine, toSalesforce.com and in the use of Web 2.0 collaboration by large, and previously conservative, organisations.
This is all to the good, providing alternative options for organisations to acquire, use and run their IT. However, we are starting to see the emergence of a worrying trend: the ironic position where, as business people start to get excited about the ramifications of consumerised IT for the business, so they become inclined to ignore and circumvent the IT department. They are trying to do IT, but without the IT!
At one level this makes sense. After all, business solutions should of course start with discussion of the business problem, not with IT tools. However, we are seeing some extreme opinions and almost a desire to punish IT for perceived past misdemeanors (too many years of IT being Mordac the Preventer of Information Services perhaps for those that know their Dilbert), which is about as sensible as cutting off your foot because it is hurting.
Sure, we IT folks have our faults. We over-hype the next great thing, we use too much jargon (even the expression "The Business" is somehow to demonstrate our separateness). Whilst we have been complicit in creating the legacy issues that bedevil our organisations today, we have not been alone. The business folk have created the (mainly) financial rules that dictate IT's behaviour and have therefore treated IT as a cost centre, as order takers ("we'll call you when we need you"). And let's not forget that the set of individually-reasonable-but-taken-together-not-good decisions that have led to today's legacy hell were taken jointly by business and IT.
Those with long memories will know we have been here before. A 'perfect storm' that changed IT forever was the introduction of the PC and end-user computing - a way then for people to get around the constraints imposed by IT. This was great until tactical developments became strategic and were unsupported.
The current perfect storm is the combination of cloud computing, consumer-driven IT innovation, social networks and so on. But what should we do to ensure that this storm increases the alignment between business and IT people rather than drive them further apart?
I would suggest four things for IT to do:
• Recognise that innovation in corporate IT is coming from the edge, from consumer IT. Embrace it, learn about it, use your knowledge to propose how it can be the catalyst for business innovation. Nothing drives alignment like IT coming to the table with ideas to improve business results.
• Seek out and partner with those in the business already experimenting with consumerised IT. Shadow IT is not the enemy, they are often the opinion formers - win them over and then win the business over.
• Provide a gentle safety net for the experimenters to help them avoid the pitfalls of doing IT badly. If IT fails, no matter where it comes from, the IT department will cop the blame, trust will be lost and alignment will be damaged.
• Work with suppliers who 'get' the new models, not who are fighting to retain the old ones. Don't get stuck between a business wanting to innovate and a set of recalcitrant, old world suppliers.
Remember, with or without you, the world is changing and the shift to consumerised IT is happening. Better be a proactive and inherent part of this than not.
This was first published in July 2008