By Somesh Singh   |   Friday, 13 Dec 2013, 10:33 IST

A quiet revolution is taking place in the world of business information technology. And like many revolutions through history, it began in the street, apparently spontaneously and was largely dismissed before it became too large to ignore.The revolution is "consumerization" and it is turning business IT on its collective head, changing both the type of technology that is used for business computing,and the way in which users think about information. Moreover, it is redefining the role of the CIO and IT department in light of business requirements and how enterprise software is built. Consumerization is simply the adoption of "consumer" technologies within business IT. Rather than IT departments run as command and control organizations that set policies and define strategy for company issued devices and applications,users are increasingly bringing their own devices –  smartphones, personal tablets and laptops – into the office to use for business. With them users are bringing web-based or cloud-based tools that are more easy to use than corporate alternatives.

It may seem like a small change,yet the ramifications are immense because they change everything we assume to be true about how technology enters the workplace,what happens to information processing and how users expect to interact and use business applications.

In developed countries with decades of entrenched IT organizations with robust policies and processes in place, the first signs of consumerization usually appear in the boardroom, and in pockets of new-hires. Senior executives and board members start the consumerization ball rolling with demand to use personal tablets to run business applications such as email or to access corporate file servers, which pushes CIOs to reassess their policies, procedures and technologies needed to make the transition.

In India and other emerging markets, consumerization is almost always driven from ground up by new generation of employees who have grown up with their mobile devices. And the challenge is little different than what we see in developed countries. In a fast growing market like India – yes, even a slow growth of 6% is fast by developed market standards – the IT organization faces dual challenges. On the one hand, burgeoning organizations need standards and policies created and enforced to allow them to scale and prevent chaos. On the other, new hires—especially younger workers –want to bring their own smartphones,already laden with applications to connect them to the corporate plan to receive email and access corporate applications anywhere, anytime.

In both worlds these behaviors have significant impact on IT. Both begin the inevitable shift of power away from a centralized IT function to the business user – and it is that shift of power, the democratization or de-centralization of control that really defines the impact of consumerization more than any individual technology or tool. Once the doors are open to using personal tablets and phones, the flood of personal devices, tools, applications and data services follows quickly behind. Enterprise applications need to be built to appear as if they are built to run on these devices. Neither these devices nor the new users have tolerance for old way of interacting with enterprise applications.

No trend, even one as powerful as consumerization, is without its downside. The most often cited are a lack of control over the tools that are being used, difficulty in supporting a wide array of applications and infrastructure, and perhaps most concerning, security worries over the inherent risks of mixing personal and corporate computing tools.

This last one is definitely worth examining in more detail. As attackers have grown increasingly sophisticated in breaking into business networks and stealing sensitive or valuable data, so organizations have improved security controls, tightened monitoring, and stepped up employee education.

Yet consumerization constantly works to undermine those efforts. By mixing business and home computing so freely, greater risks are introduced that have to be managed. A device that is used during the day to access business information might well be the plaything of an employee’s child in the evening. Data stored on non-corporate applications outside the network could well be at far greater risk than information that remains safely inside the perimeter. And smartphones have become a special target of attackers, who write custom malware designed to enable attacks on business systems and to steal information.

The often over-worked security team must constantly balance implementing ever-more stringent controls against the need to allow people to use their own devices. It is difficult to tell an employee what software they can, and cannot, install on their own tablet. Likewise, when an employee leaves the business, ensuring that the data on a personal laptop is deleted can be complicated and lead to legal problems if the employee resists.To best prepare for the impact of consumerization, embrace it. Think carefully about your organization’s business goals, and plan early. While some in the developed world may perceive the effects of consumerization as a shift of power away from the IT department, in emerging markets like India, still growing IT departments can be leaders by selecting the right technologies and architecting datacenters and applications to foster consumerization in a secure and organized way.

Newly emerging Indian IT organizations have an opportunity to become leaders in harnessing the democratizing power of this trend and unleash the productivity of its workforce. This can be very liberating.

Leadership can further help the business integrate the latest IT trends and even identify new business opportunities At the same time, the security teams can focus more on the security of critical data as it moves between corporate, home systems and the cloud. Moreover, they can provide a similar role to the rest of the IT organization, offering advice on security and providing better risk management monitoring capabilities to business leaders.

Consumerization is a powerful trend and trying to ignore it is foolish and futile. Visionary IT departments will seize the moment and shift their focus from command and control to harnessing the power and opportunities consumerization offers. And that's a win for everyone.

About Author

Somesh Singh
VP Product Management and Engineering
NetIQ Corporation

Houston, TX based NetIQ Corporation (NASDAQ: NTIQ) provides IT system management, security management, and performance management software for the modern enterprise. The company was acquired by The Attachmate Group, Inc.a $ 1.2 billion company.