Monday, July 7, 2008

IT Consumerization

Thanks to Bryan Alexander and Liberal Education Today for pointing out this piece, which summarizes a phenomenon known as "IT Consumerization." The idea is that the best information technology now starts out in consumer hands and then works its way into the technology used by organizations. "Retail" or "business to consumer" hardware and software have created higher expectations for software run in an organizational setting.
The end result is that the office has gone from being the place where you spend time with cutting-edge technology, to a technological boneyard where you're perpetually trapped about three years in the past.
The piece also points out:
This phenomenon is also at work on the network, where users develop their sense of how networked apps (messaging, collaboration, and archival) should look and function through daily contact with the lively ecosystem of consumer-driven Web 2.0 applications. Next to something like Facebook or Google Maps, most corporate intranets have an almost Soviet-like air of decrepit futility, like they're someone's lame attempt to imitate for a captive audience what's available on the open market.
My observations:

Universities used to expose students to cutting edge information technologies; now the information systems with which students interact at school often seem antiquated when compared with consumer applications. For the last ten years, libraries have been fretting over their inability to provide users with an experience that is equivalent to Amazon and Google. These are just examples of the above phenomenon.

Is this lag temporary or permanent? Will the makers of enterprise software catch up? At the network level, it makes the most sense that the most advanced applications will be those that can target the broadest possible audience, and consumer applications fit that bill. Niche applications will always be at somewhat of a disadvantage due to scale.

To some extent, I think the problem is about IT departments making the "big switch" to software that can be delivered over the web. I can think of several organizationally oriented software apps that we use around here that meet the higher Web 2.0 expectations: Basecamp, Google Analytics, and Google Docs.

Another aspect of the article was the idea that employees will soon want to use their own devices (PCs and phones) at work instead of IT supplied and maintained machines. This seems like a kind of inevitable trend that may be driven by cost incentives as well as the general idea that devices like phones and laptops are highly personalized.