Millennials hold the key to IT consumerization

MillennialsThe consumerization of IT, recognized by both Gartner and IDC as a top trend in 2013, has hit the mainstream. For a few years now it has had its own conference, known as CITE for “Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise”. The most recent gathering wound up at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, on June 4, and received a fair amount of press for key takeaways.  

One fascinating aspect of this trend is how it is turning the enterprise on its head. For decades enterprise IT infrastructure lived in static silos. The Internet brought external pressure to bear, particularly with CRM applications, but now the mobile revolution has many enterprises tilting back on their heels. Whether it’s hardware, operating systems, or applications, the consumer is defining how the workplace uses technology, and as often as not, that consumer is a “millennial” – a member of the generation coming of age in the 21st century.

Consumerization and the habits of millenials are providing a great opportunity for organizations to extend their brand. There is no reason to see BYOD and social media as some kind of existential threat to the enterprise; on the contrary, with the right policies and security protocols it is now possible to extend ever more meaningful interactions via a wide range of channels.

In effect, for a modern enterprise the ability to make proprietary applications an integral part of the consumer experience is now central to ongoing success. It is also crucial that millennial employees are themselves treated like valued customers, with access to the best software possible. The requirements are more rigorous than for standard consumer applications, yet must include all of the advantages we see on popular mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Development must be adaptive and include an integrated testing strategy that allows for flexibility throughout the cycle. Within the enterprise consumerization is a meeting of worlds, with the millennial generation as the bridge.

The sessions at CITE certainly reflected this encounter: one session was on “The Challenge of Freedom in the Enterprise,” with others addressing BYOD and the Social Enterprise. The consumer may have come ashore at the enterprise, but the enterprise cannot, will not, and should not fully capitulate to the Wild West of consumer apps.

Clearly, to get consumerization right an organization has to set priorities, and one of these is to examine how crucial other stakeholders, including the Chief Marketing Officer, can be to IT decision-making. Some wags are even heralding the death of the IT department, given that a lot of computing is moving to the cloud, and external providers are able manage mobile environments defined by only a few dominant players.

Still, the biggest concern with consumerization – and it isn’t going away – is security. The irony is that at this point security is not so much a technological challenge as a social one. We can make the devices, applications, and infrastructure behave, but can we keep the humans in line? This could be a bigger challenge with millenials who grew up with social media and who may have less emphasis on privacy in their personal lives than their parents did. If a slack attitude transfers to the enterprise environment, there could be a world of trouble.

Overall, however, it would be unwise to see the millenials as part of the problem. Better to see them as integral to the solution.  More than any other demographic they know that consumer applications are underleveraged, and that they have more technological power and freedom in their personal lives than at work. Tapping into millenials to find ways to build applications and services to improve organizational effectiveness will be essential to address what Gartner vice president Kimberly Harris-Ferrante says will be  “massive changes during the period from 2013 through 2015”.