Hey, IT: Stop trying to catch up to consumerization and start trying to stay ahead!

If enterprise technology were a planet, it would be Neptune: big (17 times the mass of Earth) and slow (takes 165 years to orbit the sun).

If enterprise technology were a planet, it would be Neptune: big (17 times the mass of Earth) and slow (takes 165 years to orbit the sun).

Vendors take years to release major versions of their products, and customers take even longer to implement them. That's not necessarily a bad thing; enterprise hardware and software is responsible for keeping our major institutions and infrastructure up and running, so manufacturers want to make sure they're doing things right. And IT wants to make sure any new technology makes business more efficient --and more importantly, that it doesn't cause any disruptions. 

Then there's consumer technology, which is more like Mercury: hot (up to 800 degrees) and fast (zips around the sun in 88 days). Software updates come out every couple of weeks, and new devices hit the shelves every year, if not sooner.

Expecting enterprise IT to catch up to the consumer market is like expecting Neptune to start moving as fast as Mercury. It can't. It's just too big. (It would also screw up the orbit of all the other planets, including ours, and probably kill us all. But that's neither here nor there.)

Enterprise IT can, however, keep better tabs on the consumer market. How? One idea that I've heard bandied about recently is by adding a market researcher or consumer advocate to the IT staff. The topic came up at TechTarget's company meeting this week, during a panel discussion where IT pros talked about their jobs with our editorial staff. I also heard about it at last week's International Consumer Electronics Show, during a panel on the consumerization of IT.

Sure, that's only two mentions, so it doesn't meet the journalistic definition of a trend yet, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on. The question is, is hiring a consumer advocate or market researcher a realistic option for most IT departments? The panelists at CES were from ginormous global corporations who can a) afford the expense and b) have a ton of customer data and intellectual property they need to protect from consumerization. In an IT department where people are already overworked and just struggling to keep the lights on, however, a consumer advocate would be pretty low on the hiring priority list.

Still, smaller organizations should embrace the spirit of the consumer advocate position. In one way or another, IT needs to stay on top of what hot new consumer technologies employees are using and how they're changing expectations for enterprise technology. That shouldn't be too hard, because IT people by nature are interested in the latest gadgets and gizmos, and many stay up to date just for fun. 

But it's not enough to just pay attention to new trends. IT needs processes in place to respond to these trends before it's too late (that is, before employees start using new consumer tech for work and take IT out of the equation). Maybe it means trying out the latest smartphone and determining it's better than your current crop of corporate-issued devices. Or perhaps it's looking at that hot new cloud service, realizing it's a huge security risk and locking it down.

However you approach consumerization, you can't ignore it. You have to be proactive instead of reactive. Only then will the enterprise technology and consumer technology planets align.

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