Coolness, according to technology experts, is at the heart of one of the biggest problems facing business IT today - the rapid influx of consumer mobile devices into the enterprise.
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To hear Accenture Mobile executive Joel Osman tell it, consumerization has been the most visible sign of a seismic change in how the business world views technology.
"I like to categorize [consumerization] as 'somehow, tech became cool,'" Osman says. "If you can imagine, not that many years ago, it was almost a badge of honor in the business world - 'I'm not very technical' - and business users really avoided technology as something to be shunned or that IT would thrust upon them."
That was fine with IT departments, he says, because it more or less gave them free rein - after all, technology wasn't cool, so nobody else wanted to get involved.
"Somehow, we flipped that. Tech has become cool. And consumerization is a big part of that, in that you've got business executives with their tablets, with their smartphones now espousing how technically savvy they are," Osman says.
The result in the ranks of IT? Panic and devastation, combined with a rapid search for a product - any product - to help address the issue.
"All the clients I talk to seem to think everyone else is doing it, and that somehow they're behind. In actuality, no one's really doing it, and the ones who are are doing it [to] varying degrees," Osman says.
Siemens mobility portfolio vice president Randy Roberts concurs.
"IT folks are scared to death because they're realizing now that BYOD is happening on their networks, there are devices hitting their networks they're not aware of. And they don't know what kind of devices they are, they don't know who these people are, what applications they have or what content they're getting access to," he says.
A big part of the response to consumerization in 2013 will be shaped by cloud technology and user frustration, according to Forrester Research senior vice president and distinguished analyst Ted Schadler.
"The big thing that's going to be a problem that I think we'll start to really see in 2013, and it's related to [mobile device management] and control, is usability. So when you put in a [mobile device management] solution that forces your employees to use a clunky, slow mailbox, or log in every time, or have a poor user experience, they'll just ignore it," he says.
Moreover, Schadler adds, the entire concept of MDM is essentially a temporary one, as cloud technology erodes the divisions between mobile and non-mobile devices.
"There's going to be a big requirement to re-think the architecture. This is why the MDM thing is a stopgap, really. ... Nobody worries about security at Salesforce.com. So if I can rely on that service provider to protect my data, then I don't need to put a 'kludge' [stopgap] in place," he says.
And since that service is available across many platforms, it's a lot more easily accessible from whatever hardware is available. This "multi-device" phenomenon, according to Schadler, is illustrated in a survey from Forrester of roughly 10,000 global information workers.
Another thing that will likely drive mobile services toward the cloud is the frustration of trying to provision them in the traditional way.
"You've got to tunnel through the firewall, you've got to federate, you've got to give permission on a case-by-case basis, it's horrible," Schadler says.
"You don't have to have an on-prem box behind the firewall to do this anymore. All this stuff now can be managed in the cloud if you want to do that," agrees Roberts.
Make a plan
So what's to be done? To start with, Roberts says, companies need to have a clear plan in place before they start making difficult decisions about MDM systems or BYOD policies.
"You really need to define what you're trying to get done," he says.
A recent blog post from Red Hat's cloud computing team says much the same thing, urging an "acceptance" of the inevitability of BYOD.
"In most cases, BYOD is going to require IT departments to do some combination of rolling out new products, educating users and adopting new processes. At the very least, they need to understand potential exposures and come up with a plan for dealing with them. But just saying "no" isn't a realistic option for the large majority of organizations. And that means acceptance is the only reasonable path forward," they write.
Importantly, making those plans will likely have to involve IT working closely with other departments.
"It's not a decision that IT can just circle the wagons and figure out," Accenture's Osman says. "Your buying behavior for personal technology is very different from IT's buying behavior for corporate technology."
Read this rest of the technologies to watch package: software defined networking, Windows Server 2012, Gigabit WiFi and OpenStack.
Email Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.
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