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The Consumerization of IT Part I: Device Proliferation

Last week I started the first in a set of posts I’m writing on the tech mega-trend, the Consumerization of IT.  The basic set up of that introduction was that we are living in a Steve Jobs-oriented world.  By that I mean that a big leverage point that is and will continue to impact IT  is a function of the products, innovations and services  that consumers have experienced in improving their digital lifestyle.

To summarize: while our digital lifestyle is completely different than where we were 10 years ago (Facebook, YouTube, NetFlix, iPhone, etc., etc.), how we work as information users is basically the same.  The opportunity is high for our digital workstyle to change dramatically.   And that’s what the Consumerization of IT is all about at the highest level.

This series of posts will dig in more deeply on the Consumerization of IT, what are the implications of this, what will we see specifically.  I think there will be several implications.  The first that I want to discuss is the coming proliferation of devices.

I have a running bet with a good friend of mine around how many computing devices will we own  in 10 years.  We generally think about this in the context of how many devices we’ll carry on when we get onto a flight, but anyway, we’ll argue about that in 2021 when the time comes to pay out.

His idea is that he’ll own only 1 device, and the rest will basically be screens.  I tend to think that we’ll have literally dozens of devices, all that are smart.  Also, when I am carrying my bag luggage to a plane, I expect I’ll not have 1, but several devices, as I do today when I get on plane with an iPad, an iPhone, and a MacBook Pro.  (When I’m going on vacation btw, I add to this a Kindle.)

Bets aside, in either scenario, its apparent that device proliferation will continue to happen.  Furthermore, consumers will drive this proliferation–they will have different tastes and price points, and this will fuel a cornucopia of hardware devices that users can choose from.  Alfred P Sloan’s mantra for General Motors: ‘a car for every pocket and every purse’ will be the order of the day.

This device proliferation is an important factor in the Consumerization of IT trend.  Specifically, IT will continue to require control and security management capabilities over users, applications, data, and devices.   This is not a new problem, of course: security management and user provisioninig has been a headache for IT for over a decade, with the rise of users having Windows-based PCs and laptops.   To provide a sense of where we’ve come from, roughly 10 years ago, when IT analysts such as Gartner or IDC talked about an enterprise’s “Mobile Strategy,” it tended to focus on how to secure and manage laptops, not feature phones.  And to be sure, laptops being left behind did cause significant security and IT breaches: e.g., within the past few years, there’s been a highly publicized breech where a Fidelity employee left her laptop containing customer account data on hundreds of users in a taxi cab.

The consumer-led device explosion that we are now experiencing will make IT’s security management responsibilities even more challenging than they have historically been.  There will be more devices (phones, tablets, laptops, smartscreens, etc.), more platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone) than were part of the past hegemony of Microsoft Windows on the desktop and RIM Blackberry on mobile.  In addition to device and platform proliferation, there will be a rising calls and demands from users to have their devices and platforms supported.  Unlike the past where IT could dictate reference PC devices and provide a standard “software image,” the future is one where users will expect and demand that their devices, applications and platforms are supported.  It will be IT’s very challenging job to figure out how to deliver that user flexibility while at the same time ensuring that the corporate data assets are protected and all regulatory and legal compliance responsibilities are met.  Truly, the demands on IT are increasing.

What this means for early stage companies and investing is that there are new opportunities around Mobile in the Enterprise.  Companies like MobileIron, Zenprise, and AppCentral (disclosure: I am on the board of AppCentral) arenew entrants into this field, aiming at helping IT deliver the kind of device and application management protection required while enabling users to maintain the flexibility they demand.

In  my next post, I will talk about a second element of the Consumerizaiton of IT trend, namely how consumierization could change the way we think about distributing and managing software applications in the future.


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