Mike Resseler and Orin Thomas debate Consumerization of IT

Mike Resseler, System Center DPM MVP and Senior Technical Consultant for Infront Consulting Group Belgium and I have been discussing over twitter whether consumerization of IT is likely to be a growing trend in future. Microsoft has a page on the consumerization of IT here: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/consumerization/default.aspx

We thought that it might be interesting to have a written debate about the issue. Here is the result of that debate:

Orin: I suppose we need to start with some definitions.

Consumerization of IT is a way of labeling the trend of people increasingly using their own phones/tablets/and computers to perform work related tasks. While people have always taken work home with them, the consumerization of IT is something beyond allowing them VPN access from their home computer (or dial-up access as it was a decade or so ago).

I think that the consumerization of IT was more of a growing trend back before the beginning of the “Great Recession” when people were more likely to purchase computer hardware that might have been more powerful than the hardware provided to them by their workplace. For example, someone buys themselves a brand new laptop and they’d rather bring that into the office and work on that than the older, less capable, computer that they are given by the company.

Now oddly enough I’ve always been a part of that trend. When I’ve been working as a trainer or as a systems administrator, I’ve always had my own gear with me. That’s because I’m a gadget geek and have always had pretty good portable systems. However, even when I’ve worked with other geeks, I’ve found that my choice was the exception rather than the rule. Except for me, my fellow trainers, all geeks, at a company I recently worked for, chose to use the laptop computers allocated to them by the company rather than purchase their own computer. I used my own computer because I needed more RAM than the SOE laptops, and that I also would come in early and work at writing my books, something I was careful to separate from my “on the clock” work time.

Why I think consumerization may turn out to be a fad (beyond providing VPN access) is that people today have a lot less disposable income than they had a couple of years back. Whereas at one point it did seem as though people might end up purchasing themselves better computers than the ones they had at work, today a lot of people have fallen back to an attitude of “I’m not going to use the computer I paid for at the office, the office should provide me with a computer that is capable of performing the tasks I need to complete to perform my job”.

People are also more aware today of policies regarding the wiping of company data when you leave an organization. Whereas it might have once seemed cool to read your work e-mail on your personal phone, many people are more reluctant about the idea if they know that to read work e-mail on the personal phone means they have to agree that this phone can be remote wiped by the IT department should circumstances dictate.

So there’s the point that people are less willing to spend their hard earned dollars on buying a computer to take into the office each day when their workplace will provide them with a computer anyway. If I may make an indirect analogy - think about office chairs. There is probably nothing stopping people buying their own office chair rather than using the one that is given to them by their organization. Most organizational office chairs are rubbish. Because I spend a lot of time writing at home, I got myself an Aeron. An Aeron costs less than most well specced laptops. Yet we don’t see many office workers who spent 9-5 in the same cheap company chair springing to buy themselves something slightly better for their posture and comfort. The consumerization of IT is sort of like replacing your office chair with a better one - it sort of makes sense (I’d certainly do it if I was spending 9-5 behind a desk in an office) - but the vast majority of people won’t do it because they’re unwilling to spend extra dollars to get something that their company will provide for them anyway.

So while it is important for IT pros to consider the possibility of having to figure out some way of allowing people to perform their job roles using their own equipment rather than equipment provided by the organization - whether that possibility turns into an unstoppable trend is something else.

A final point before I hand over. A big issue with the consumerization of IT is the security and manageability aspect. Tracking things like the application of software updates, software licensing compliance, and computer hygiene is substantially more labor intensive with personal computers that are unmanaged than it is with organizational computers that are managed and run an SOE. Given how much centrally managing computers reduces cost, it might simply be cheaper for an organization to buy an employee an equivalent computer and manage it using the SOE than it is to provide IT support for a personal consumer device. Can consumerization, assuming it is a real trend and not a fad, compete when it is more expensive for an organization to support a non-standard device than it is to provide a device with similar functionality, but which is managed and running an SOE?

Mike: Consumerization of IT is the definition for the trend of people increasingly using so-called consumer devices to perform work related tasks. Whether they use their own bought devices or the company provides the devices to them, the trend shows more and more devices entering the workspace that are originally created as consumer devices, and not as professional devices.

Consumerization of IT started with people bringing in their own devices. The iPhone was an important device in this trend. I have seen many colleagues, partners and customers that bought themselves an iPhone and configured it to read their emails from their phones. While this was already possible for many years, the iPhone brought us a way that made it easy to read emails, delete them, categorize them and reply to them straight from our lazy chair. Another device that was capable of doing this was the blackberry devices. But a blackberry device never got the status of a device that you wanted to have for yourself. The blackberry was a device that you received from your boss to do your work with. With the success of the iPhone, many more vendors came with a device with the same capabilities. Android devices, Windows phone 7 and others came to the market and these days it is normal to receive one of those devices from your employer. The question now will be: “Is the same going to happen for tablets and other consumer devices?” I know that a part of the consumerization definition is also the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to the office, and that is more oriented to laptops then to the other devices. This part of the trend I don’t see that often. As Orin stated, why would somebody wants to buy a laptop which he or she receives from the company anyway? Because it is faster? Because it has the tools and apps that he or she prefers to work with? Or because it is a mac and not a windows device? While we can’t forget this part of consumerization, I believe this trend will only become successful the day that VDI will enter the business as a standard.

I always was the guy that refused to buy a device and then use it for my work. I always believed that my employer needed to buy my devices if I needed it for work. But lately, that idea has changed a bit. I now own a tablet computer that I use for professional work. My employer didn’t buy that one because he believed that I had the device(s) needed to do the work. And the truth here is simple… Yes, I have the device(s) I need for my work, but I found out that I can win some hours each week in working on my tablet (depending on the situation). Those 2 or 3 hours I win are hours I can spent with my family (I am a proud father of two beautiful young daughters). Those 2 or 3 hours with my family are much more worth than the price I paid for the tablet. I now am even considering to buy an XBOX with Kinect to use the video conferencing feature with them whenever I am abroad (and I am abroad quite some time). And while this doesn’t seem important and actually non-work related, I actually consider it work-related. Everybody who travels a lot knows that part of the work is “calling home” from time to time. In fact, this is a serious discussion point in many companies. How much time can you phone to the home front with the companies cellphone? How much do you need to pay yourself for these calls? I had the luck that the companies that I worked for were quite flexible. They understood that I was away a lot and that the price for these phone calls is part of the deal. They only asked me to try to use IP-dialing whenever I can. With apps such as Skype or MSN that is perfectly possible, but it remains 2 webcam’s and if the 2 children and wife are behind 1 laptop then the image is not so great. But with Kinect, that changes completely as they are sitting in the chair and I can see my living room with them over there. So for me, this becomes work-related. Which of course also means that I need to be able with my devices on the road to do a meeting with a Kinect device. And automatically, a consumer device becomes a work device (again.)

Orin said that he thinks that consumerization will not last, but I think it is here to stay:

As said, in my opinion, Consumerization of IT is just a term for bringing in consumer devices into the professional life. I believe that many organizations are going to buy these devices (which drops the hard worked dollars case…) for their employees and for the following reasons:

  • Since I use my tablet, I do more work in less time. I also choose to work on the device of my choice whenever I have the time. And this is a trend what we call NWOW (new world of work: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/ceosummit/docs/NewWorldofWorkWP.doc)
  • Organizations are starting to understand the importance between a social, familial life. The consumer devices help in this difficult matter. Working 9 to 5 is a dying term, and people work when they decide to work, on the device they want.
  • Organizations will want to keep control over all of these devices. A strategy that brings in these devices themselves will be much cheaper for them than allowing the users to bring in whatever device they want.
  • There will always be users that bring in their own devices and have the budget to buy these “gadgets”. Instead of creating jealousy and investing to control only a few “gadgets”, organizations will want to create an entire policy around it and provide it to all the users that need it (or simply can use it)

For me, IT pros should consider consumerization as a challenge, and a way to create goodwill with their users. Instead of simply saying no to everything, they should consider this as a way to help their users organize their work more efficiently, doing what they want to do the way they want it to do and therefore are more happy with the IT department.

While security and manageability are aspects that will be resolved in the near feature (http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/en/us/configuration-manager/cm-vnext-beta.aspx) there is a much bigger challenge then the management. Organizations will need to adapt their policies. The policies that exist now will completely change.

Is consumerization of IT a trend that stays or a hype that will disappear?

In conclusion, I think it is something that will stay. Not because of the consumerization itself, it will stay here because it is an important part of that other trend, the new way or working

Orin: Okay I suspect we have a few conflicting definitions here. I do think that organizations will buy devices such as iPads and iPhones for their staff as long as they get overall control of these devices. This isn’t a surprising thing because I think organizations buying “consumer” devices for workers has been going on since IT equipment started getting used to do work.

If the organization owns it, the organization can find some way to manage it. The user of the device doesn’t have ultimate administrative authority over the device because in the end it belongs to the organization and not the user.

The tension I see in the consumerization space is when someone owns the device that they want to use to perform work. To meet their responsibilities, internal IT needs to be able to control the devices that access the network. They need to be able to ensure that they aren’t infected with malware and they also need to ensure that these devices aren’t used to subvert organizational policies. I think that in this part of the debate, IT ends up with a bad reputation - they need control over the device to ensure that it isn’t a malware vector, or that it can’t be used to leech organizational data to be taken offsite by someone with nefarious interests, or that if it’s lost, confidential data stored on the device remains unrecoverable.

So how do we deal with the person who wants to use their own device on the organizational network, but who is unwilling to give IT the necessary privileges to manage that device?

Mike: Yes, this is a very difficult point. But again, this comes back to the policy part. An example, I work as a consultant a few days a month for a very large bank. They allow me to synch my bank email to my own phone (which is not owned by that bank at all…) if I agree with a certain policy. That policy is pretty clear. I had to change my security code (it went up from 4 digits to at least 6 digits) and from the moment I quit there as a consultant, the exchange team will remove the bank data (they have a device management solution…)

Many people agree with this policy and those who don’t are not getting their email on their phone. This is also true for iPads or Android tablets. I think people who want to work with their own devices should agree with the companies policy. I had many discussions about this point with users (non-it people) and they all agree and understand that there should be policies around this. They understand it perfectly. After all, there is also a car policy, an internet usage policy, a VPN policy and whatever else policy. The only thing they all give as a remark is that IT should ‘loosen’ up a bit… And that indeed could be a killer for consumerization. If IT doesn’t be a bit flexible, then things won’t happen. Again, consumerization is a quick win to your users and buys you much goodwill so the IT teams should take that opportunity and challenge.

If we are going to look to the “bring your own laptop” to the company, then I think we should look at VDI. If you want to work with your own laptop, then you need to agree that the VDI software gets installed on your device (or that you need to do it yourself!) to connect to your companies desktop. And then IT has control again over the virtual device. Only difficult part here is… What if that personal laptop dies or whatever… Will the company provide a replacement device for the time being or not?

Orin: Some of these questions clearly don’t have easy answers. Mike and I would be interested in hearing about your experiences with the consumerization of IT in the comments:

Follow Mike and Orin on twitter: @mikeresseler @orinthomas

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Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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