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IT's Consumerization Challenge

This week, CES--the Consumer Electronics Show--is in full swing. CES is a rare bird; it's the only event I can think of that attracts upwards of 140,000 attendees and 2,500 exhibitors, and is still declared, by none other than the NY Times, to be losing clout! Apparently, like Tim Tebow, CES's standards are set by a higher authority.

The headlines from CES aren't yet written, but whichever gizmos and gadgets wind up capturing the public’s imagination, one outcome is certain: They will only ratchet up the pressure on enterprise IT to support BYOD-type policies. There'll be more smartphones, ultra-books and tablets, and more ways to connect people to other people, people to things and things to things. Some will fit within existing IT procurement frameworks; many, maybe most, won't.

BYOD--Bring Your Own Device--is the most visible manifestation of what’s often called the "Consumerization of IT," but it's certainly not the only one. Skype penetrated into enterprises when subscribers added the workplace to the locations from which they'd Skype their family, friends and colleagues.

Within the enterprise, the anecdotal evidence points to video as the primary Skype application. At last year's Enterprise Connect, during a focus group with enterprise IT execs, the participants cited Skype as a reason for their growing concern about whether they were going to run into network capacity problems sooner than they'd otherwise planned. Interestingly, when this group focused on the video issue, they weren’t concerned about which video terminals or systems to use, characterizing hardware selection as a commodity buy. The video -related issues that ranked of highest concern were network design, management and security, and, of course, the budget impact of those topics.

Social is another example of the consumerization of IT, and almost all of us are guilty of using our office machines to browse Facebook, send out Tweets and connect to folks via LinkedIn. 2012 should prove to be a fascinating year for social networking and apps within the enterprise, as Gartner and other market watchers are predicting that social will have to endure a backlash.

Certainly, within contact centers, social tools are becoming much more mainstream--I expect that virtually every major contact center supplier will be showing social tools and apps at Enterprise Connect 2012, and Sheila Mc-Gee Smith is leading a session on Social Networking's Role Within the Contact Center during the conference.

When it comes to the broader enterprise environment, social's doubters remain. Those among you with enough years in this business may recall a similar phenomenon in the 1990s with CTI--Computer Telephony Integration. Contact centers were quick to deploy CTI and that's about as mainstream as it gets today. Deploying CTI out of the contact center, however, never caught on, because the ROI simply wasn’t there.

We hear much about how the millennials will cause social to take off in the enterprise, and maybe that prediction will be borne out. My generation also believed we would change the workplace, but I'm not sure that the Boomers have contributed anything much more significant than Casual Fridays to the workplace culture.

Still, there are plenty of case studies describing how social tools are already taking hold within enterprises (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). And Blair Pleasant will moderate a session at Enterprise Connect where enterprise execs will describe their experience with social tools, networks and apps.

The days when the IT tools at our disposal in the workplace exceeded what we could do from our homes or while on the road, are long gone. While social, wireless and video are highly visible examples of the Consumerization of IT phenom, the real issue is that our expectations have been raised, we've come to assume that we can have essentially limitless bandwidth and storage, and a UC-like experience whenever we use a communications device.

IT can’t change those expectations, nor should it try, but it still has to balance those demands with the "ity's"--manageability, reliability, security and availability. The Consumerization of IT may make the end user's life easier and maybe even more fun; it's making IT's life more difficult.