By Ricky Hudson, CEO of Star

Consumerization of IT is happening with or without the support of the IT department and this is creating more complexity for businesses. In fact, as more employees bring their own gadgets/devices (BYOD) into the workplace and use social media to communicate and collaborate with their networks and customers, so the consumerization gap is starting to widen – as IT struggles to keep apace of the user adoption and to provide the appropriate levels of support.

As these consumer tools become more important for reaching customers, prospects and business partners, businesses have to wake up quickly to new approaches to competing in their marketplaces.

When we look at gadgets, such as smart phones and tablet PCs, in the workplace and then add into the mix the consumer-inspired social media trends, we can see a complexity for IT departments that simply did not exist a few years ago. Supporting and managing this trend holds many lessons and opportunities for organisations. So, embracing what’s now possible with cloud computing is something that most companies would do well to consider sooner rather than later and to do so at the very top.

The CEO must be involved in the business transformation opportunity on offer because the IT department simply won’t do this without a mandate from the very top. The problem with IT departments across all companies is that most of them don’t have the skills, the motivation or the time to take the consumerization of IT seriously. But they do run the risk of becoming victims of it if they don’t have a strategy for cloud computing. Choices will be taken away from them and decisions will be made for them.

Lesson 1 – They’re Behind You!
Visibility of what gadgets or applications are being used within an organisation is paramount, but how much does the IT department actually know about what is being used within their own company? There are studies that suggest that IT regularly underestimates the extent of IT consumerization by as much as 50 per cent. This points to the fact that many employees are using easy to access technologies, either via the Internet or their own gadgets, without IT’s knowledge or approval and, therefore, unsupported and, possibly, unsecured.

The challenge for IT departments is to formalise unstructured behaviour to give employees the freedom of new cloud-based services while they maintain control over corporate applications and data. Once done, business users benefit from applications right away (without long development times) and are more likely to use stylish and easy to use applications, like those publicly available to consumers on the Web.

Lesson 2 – Let Them Eat Cake!
What would happen if you just gave your employees the technology and gadgets they want? Would this be technical suicide or a smart move for the business? After all, a demanding workplace is not, necessarily, a bad thing but, like everything else, it needs to be managed.

And, there is an argument for giving employees more flexible guidelines about the technology they use in the workplace. After all, if they already have access to what they consider to be the best tools for the job there is little room for complaints or demands. And, most people would agree that a happy team is a productive one. But businesses still have to deal with the technical and regulatory challenges of integrating any new devices or services into the corporate systems and of developing policies to ensure that employees work with them in an appropriate and effective way.

Lesson 3 – Fix the Business Problem, Not the Laptop
There is an inflexion point that presents a huge opportunity to IT departments to drive the next wave of business transformation. It’s when two trends converge – cloud computing and IT consumerization.

IT consumerization continues to impact our business lives every day. From a user’s perspective most of this is for the better. It brings a whole range of devices and applications into the workplace that have been specifically developed to be engaging and easy to use for people with limited or no technical capability. These services, sometimes free, and products, often expensive, were originally developed for the consumer market but have now captured the imagination of everyone. That makes them first choice on the desirability list for both personal and for business use.

Embracing this adoption and desirability tends to be challenged by many IT departments who see such services and devices as problematic, threatening and difficult to manage. But, IT professionals who ignore this change, may find a career of Break/Fixes and issuing passwords, never desirable by business leaders anyway, no longer exists.

Lesson 4 – PAYG Cloud for Agile Budgeting
UK businesses have come to value the newly available cloud services that help them to transform their business operations, while increasing their ability to forecast and budget for IT more accurately than ever before.
But becoming more agile is not simply about putting specific processes in place. Businesses need to accept the reality that requirements are likely to change over time and the processes we use may need to be refined or even re-engineered to help react to those changes. Companies must be more dynamic than ever before and have the capability to adapt and change in line with the market opportunities that present themselves.

Lesson 5 – Secure your Big Data
Our reliance on all kinds of business data has resulted in an explosion of information which we aptly call Big Data. Protecting corporate data is an emotive subject. Many IT Managers believe their data should be on computers located in their own offices and that they themselves are responsible for looking after it. Contrast this belief with that of CEO, CFO and CIO, all of whom would much rather their company data was stored in an expensively designed and well run data centre, owned and run by a third party they can trust. Big data is causing more and more business leaders to review where they keep their data and, increasingly, they are prepared to entrust others to secure it for them, much like a bank looks after your cash.

Accessing this data from the growing number of devices that business people use these days creates interesting challenges. It encourages business users to think differently about their data, sometimes becoming less precious about storing and accessing it on their own premises. While IT consumerization is in many ways very positive, it is important not to lose sight of the hard-learnt lessons of IT Security best-practice.

IT consumerization helps to make employees more productive and creates an effective mobile workforce. IT departments understand that consumerization is important and inevitable, they just need to ‘get their collective head’ around the issues of security, resourcing and policy making. Security is often used by IT as an excuse for not doing something that they don’t want to do or for maintaining control over the infrastructure. Resourcing can be facilitated by smart use of managed cloud services and policies can and should be introduced to control the use of all devices and technologies within an organisation.

The reality is that cloud services offer a ready-made approach to supporting many mobile devices without having to dedicate staff and resources to building the necessary infrastructure. Service Level Agreements with enterprise-grade services take care of the policies and security.

IT departments do not have to reinvent the wheel to deliver the right blend of technologies to their users. Visibility of technology usage becomes a non-issue while the issues of security and policies are put to rest. IT Consumerization is a reality and although IT departments may see it as a challenge the truth is that it is a huge opportunity for businesses looking to leap frog their way ahead of their competition. IT departments who embrace the lessons of IT consumerization stand to gain a great deal those that don’t may find their familiar world beginning to change despite their resistance to do so.