Consumerization of IT isn’t about devices or computing platforms. It’s about enabling social interactions. But current hardware-centric IT strategies aren’t suited to supporting this emerging paradigm and capturing the true business value it generates.
That’s going to change over the next 10 years, though. The model based on controlling a complete computing environment from the data center is going to disappear, and we’re going to have a world of lightweight end-user devices operating in — and I’ll use the term with a small “c” — a cloud of computing.
Those end-user devices will be much more focused on, and conducive to, human interaction than self-contained computing. With the exploding popularity of smartphones and tablets, this trend has already begun. The question for IT management is how to manage their impact to benefit the business.
For example, in a recent report on research sponsored by Unisys, IDC (Unisys’s partner in the study) estimates that workers’ use of consumer technology will drive a four-fold increase in data center interactions, from 3.5 trillion today to 12.7 trillion in 2013. This will have significant impact on data center scalability and performance, but it’s too early for many in management to see exactly what those implications will be.
That’s because, at the moment, this new interaction paradigm is mostly ad hoc. People latch onto the social network of their choice, use a device of their choice, and talk and IM with one another. And none of this is organized in an effective manner. Nor is there a way to encapsulate the results so that you preserve organizational memory.
Considering the historical information that workers need to do their jobs, their social tendencies and their wide geographic dispersal around the world, capturing knowledge and creating an institutional memory becomes more crucial than ever. Information about these hybrid social/business transactions captured now will help IT management see patterns of activity that could help shape the data center policies they’ll need for the future.
What tools will help us harness these human interactions for the creation of long-lived knowledge? Frankly, if workers aren’t sending e-mail being captured by the corporate server, there’s very little else there. What we need is a concept of human interaction management — something akin to workflow management, but adapted to this new paradigm. It’s an area wide open for innovation.
Another important facet of the interaction paradigm is community-driven development — the idea that communities can provide insight into what companies should build or what services they should provide. Community members become ready-made consumers of the end result because it’s theirs, they contributed to it, and in some sense they helped design it. So they buy into it. A classic example is the T-shirt company Threadless, where community members submit designs for the apparel.
But how do you extend that to other business models? What would it mean, say, for Unisys to extend this concept to our community of customers, to create something like a customer-driven evolution of our ClearPath mainframe product? It would be an opt-in model with positive feedback, a virtuous circle involving talking with customers, creating a result, selling it, and then getting more feedback.
We do that in the real world, of course. The evolution of our ClearPath family is driven by express customer requirements. But imagine how much more efficient and cost-effective it would be to do this using contemporary consumer and social technologies. Imagine how far that would go toward liberating the way we and other corporations do our work, or the way we interact with customers.
The same goes for internal systems and organizations. Many companies have sharing mechanisms, such as Microsoft SharePoint or wikis. These are either completely open, where anybody can join, or they work on a sign-up model, where you ask to be a member and a moderator authorizes you.
But that’s not how social networks operate at all. Social networks are self-organized, opt-in circles of like-minded people who want to work together and communicate.
How does one modify the corporation’s information management and authorization mechanism to harness the power of self-organizing teams and the opt-in methodology? For instance, I might be a member of a geographically dispersed team, and I’m in an opt-in circle of project managers organized out on the Web because we’re interested in sharing how we manage projects.
But within the organization there is an internal group, organized for the same purpose, but in the traditional top-down manner. Can I opt-in to that group? Maybe, maybe not.
It is challenges such as these that technology managers should be anticipating and preparing for now to make the most of the new human interaction paradigm that consumerization of IT is driving.