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Consumerization of IT – A cultural chasm or technology teaser?

by Juniper Employee on ‎02-27-2012 08:57 AM

Many years ago when my father questioned why I was enjoying the music of the **bleep** Pistols and the singing of Johnny Rotten so much whilst he still espoused the merits of Frank Sinatra it was clear there was both a generational and cultural gap at play between us – to me Pogoing and Punk were everything, he could not see beyond Crosby and the crooners.  And whilst we disagreed musically and I continued my love of all things punk, I did so recognising the rules of the house I lived in and that maybe having a safety pin through my nose and spiky fluorescent hair would have maybe been a step too far.

 

So, cultural and generational gaps and differences of opinion like that have existed probably since time began and will continue in all likelihood until the earth stops spinning.

 

That leads me to the key item of discussion in this blog.  Is the current trend towards the consumerization of IT really a cultural / generational challenge or is it more of a gap in technology development waiting to be filled?

 

There are a number of definitions of exactly what consumerization is, for the purpose of this article I will summarise it as the increasing influence that technology users experience as consumers - both hardware and applications – and the impact this has on the technology and experiences that those users increasingly expect to see and utilize at their place of work.

 

If you are sat within an IT department, you will most likely be experiencing that influence and expectation from two completely different groups of people.  The first one is the C-Suite and is typically the easiest to deal with.  The genesis of this influence or expectation is either device envy – C-Suite people coming back from a high level event where everyone has a tablet and they suddenly want one or they have received a tablet as a Birthday or Christmas gift, begun to use it at home and now want to use it in the office.  I say this is the easier of the two to deal with as quite frankly, most IT departments when asked by the C-Suite about this one aspect of consumerization, will acquiesce and allow it to happen and support it.

 

The second group of people are the ‘generation Y’ employees and these are all together more challenging.  More challenging in that they are growing in number as a % of the workforce, they are the generation that grew up as digital natives, typically have a high level of competence in IT awareness and they are culturally often more prepared to challenge the accepted norms.

 

Having been to a number of events where consumerization has been the sole topic of discussion, it is always interesting to look around the room at the senior IT leaders in attendance.  Though not in any way scientific, I think it’s fair to say that most are ‘middle aged mature’ individuals who have most likely grown their careers over many years where IT operated in a ‘command and control’ type structure.  Suddenly and progressively, a new wave of employees are both challenging those accepted principles and raising concerns that IT is simply not keeping up with their needs and aspirations in supplying them with the right tools to do their job.

 

Typically Social Media is at the heart of their lifestyle, business and social lifestyles are often blurred at the edges, the devices they use have a lifespan of often less than 12-18 months and their view of security (to quote a recent analyst comment) is that it’s ‘something that happens at airports’.

 

This reason this generation are garnering such focus and at the centre of this debate is their importance to businesses.  Information workers of this generation are crucial to businesses sustaining their ongoing competitiveness and it is therefore key that those businesses have both the right environment to attract these individuals but also, crucially, to retain them.  The IT environment on offer is not the only part of that overall equation but it is a substantial part for a generation that are so IT centric.  It is arguable that the IT department is not directly responsible for attracting and retaining staff, but in shaping the policies that will achieve those goals, departments like HR, Legal and IT must come together to both define and then implement those very policies.

 

So back to my original question – is this whole trend really a cultural gap between established modes of operation and a new generation of employee or are there fundamental technology gaps that need to be filled here?

 

Firstly, I believe that the technology exists to meet pretty much all aspects of the trend towards consumerization, whether that’s mobility, security, visibility, data management or auditable access to external sites amongst others. 

 

Simply put, this is not a technology issue, more on that later.

 

What organisations have to ask themselves is do they believe this is a trend that will impact them and if so, what is their stance on it.  Having considered this from many different angles, I believe there is only one of two stances that organisations can take

 

  • Accept the trend is real; it will impact them and put in place clear, pro-active policies around the use of social media, the use of personal devices at work and guidelines around data storage and management.
  • Accept the trend is real; it will impact them and put in place clear policies that prohibit all aspects of consumerization – clear policies on restrictions of access to social media sites, no personal devices to be used on company business etc. etc.  This *MUST* be backed up with clear HR and disciplinary policies.

I do believe many IT organisations have adopted a 3rd stance which is to almost go into a state of denial – They don’t explicitly support or condone consumerization and will tell you their users don’t access social media and don’t bring their own devices to work. Unfortunately, the reality, when you look at numerous studies, is that many of their users are already doing exactly that, the challenge here being when things like this go ‘underground’ the potential for security breaches and business harm is massively increased. It is much more prudent to be clear and transparent whichever side of the line you come down on, but do come down on one side or the other.

 

Now back to the technology question.  For once, we are not waiting on the IT industry vendors to ‘fix’ this issue.  Pretty much all of the technologies that are required to enable this trend exist.  If you think that from a networking standpoint, the key technologies required to provide the foundation to a Consumerization of IT approach are

 

  • Ubiquitous and secure wireless access from both within and outside of the office location
  • Consistent security capabilities across smartphones, tablets and PC access
  • Auditable and flexible security policies for access to external sites such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
  • Application level security
  • Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth

There is no one product that can deliver all of the above it really does require an integrated solution, covering all aspects of security and connectivity.  The Juniper Networks Simply Connected solution was designed to deliver all aspects of the above, whether that’s device level security across iOS, Android, Windows , Blackberry and others, secured network access to control what user and device accesses the corporate network, visibility of what users are accessing both internally and externally and an infrastructure that scales to current 802.11n levels on the wireless access side and up to 100G on the wired infrastructure side.

 

If you are in the process of architecting your approach to enabling consumerization into your organisation, simply connected makes for an ideal foundation.

 

Consumerization is a trend that will impact the vast majority of IT departments so it’s something that most of them should be involved in helping to shape company policy around.

 

As always, if something goes wrong the IT department will be the first place the finger is pointed at, so far better to build an open, transparent and clear policy to this, built on a solid and trusted foundation then be left waiting for the knock at the door.

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  • Aviram Zrahia is a consulting engineer at Juniper Networks and an industry researcher of cyberspace. He holds a CISSP and GCIH certifications, as well as a bachelor's degree in computer science and MBA in management of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is also a research fellow in the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC) at Tel Aviv University, currently focusing on the domain of threat intelligence sharing.
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