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Consumerisation of IT? There, dragons be… OR Creative Control vs Controlled Creativity

December 5, 2012

There is much talk about the ‘consumerisation of IT’. That is, the more pervasive and more friendly, useful nature of today’s technology means that you no longer have to be MIT postgrad to operate it; nor in fact a technical professional or even an ‘geek’. Devices are now so intuitive that toddlers can pick up an iPhone and use it before they can read or write. Incredibly complicated software applications can now be used by everyday people, because all that complexity is obscured behind well-designed, simple and usable interfaces. Complexity and intelligence is advancing and progressing at one end, and at the other we now understand more about how this can be harnessed by humans than ever before, and this too is advancing at a rapid rate. The gap between the technology and how it manifests itself is widening every day. You can all call it “MacPherson’s Gulf” if you like 🙂

Clever packaging, desirability and the ‘death of boredom’ are also contributing factors. I am sure I don’t need to mention the fruity tech company worth more than many nations’ GDP; you already know who they are, and that’s exactly the point. Finally, and most surprising is that my Mum now owns and enjoys using a tablet PC. She hasn’t asked me for help even once, whereas I am sure we are all familiar with the ‘free family member technical support’ we all are obliged to offer to when working in IT, in the era of the PC. Which, I reckon, pretty much ended this year.

This has all be done to death in the tech press – the reason I mention it is because it throws up issues which are less well-covered. Now that non-techies love devices, they’re getting involved in other previously geek-only activities with a relatively high barrier to entry. Developing apps – lots of people are getting involved and there are toolkits to make this as easy as it has ever been. AppStore type marketplaces mean that you can take an app to market with no real investment, charge for it and make money. The consumerisation aspect means that you can even get away with having far less skill. A good thing right?

WRONG

Well, it’s partly a good thing, but IT is basically complex. Good design isn’t just about what you can see (in fact, most of it is what you can’t see as a user) and developing in a fast-paced agile manner doesn’t mean you take the path of least resistance when developing apps and services. Quite the opposite. Now, when we are talking consumer apps that turn the screen light on to be used as a torch, or let you change the colour of the LED when you get a new email, who really cares? Well, the customers care, but they can vote with their feet. The real issue is when we apply a gung-ho goldrush mentality to developing a mobility solution or capability in your business. We wouldn’t just ‘knock up’ a line-of-business application to run on a desktop workstation, so why on earth would we do that for a tablet or smartphone?

Technology that harnesses the creativity whilst still enforcing good governance and design will be the platform for success. It might be easy to create a cool app to show the CTO that we can see real time customer order information on an iPad, but that doesn’t mean we should show it to anyone else until we’ve done it properly! I’m sure there will be some high-profile hiccups along the way when businesses start really ramping up the service mobility aspect. The uptake hasn’t kept pace with device innovation so far, I can only assume there is some hanging-back; not wanting to be a trail-blazer.

Boundaries are important, but we need to be sure to engender creativity and freshness, without stifling it with process and paperwork. I guess it’s like being a good parent. We shouldn’t try to be ‘down with the kids’; should set clear house rules, but at the same time let them have the keys to the car every now and again for a data-date down at the drive-in…

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