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What the heck is IT consumerization?

It appears to be the next big thing in information technology, but there's a bit of confusion over what it means exactly.

Everyone is talking about the "consumerization" of information technology being the next big trend. Well, OK, but just what does IT consumerization mean. It turns out that many people are talking about different things. Through some research, I think I can summarize this trend as having three components:

  1. Consumer application use. Recent grads all the way up to thirtysomethings are used to sites where they can share information, download videos, blog, and customize applications. This next generation of employees expects different applications and presents different risks. Chief information officers need to understand these distinctions.

  2. Consumer devices hit the enterprise. Whether it's the CEO looking to get e-mail on her new iPhone, technical writers working while listening to a Zune music player, or a marketing manager plugging a wireless access point into an Ethernet jack, users are bringing Best Buy bargains to work with them and creating havoc. Someone has to create and enforce acceptable-use policies and support users who run into problems.

  3. New application development. Closely related to No. 1, CIOs and business application developers are trying to figure out how to integrate Web 2.0 functionality with internal applications to bolster productivity. Should companies create internal social networks like IBM? Will employee blogs help increase communications? Do wikis help group collaboration?

IT consumerization is a raging river--even the most conservative, risk-averse CIO can't swim against this tide. Additionally, there are no IT consumerization experts; we are all learning on the fly. Anyone claiming to have a road map is lying.

So what should CIOs do? The same thing they always do: Assess needs, understand risks, and build a pragmatic plan to serve the business. In other words, let IT consumerization work for you where it can help enhance productivity and global recruitment. Experiment with low-risk, easy functionality to get started and enlist user feedback to make sure you are hitting the mark.

Some companies will use IT consumerization to their benefit, while others will build internal applications that look like Facebook just because it seemed like a cool thing to do at the time. The former seems like a prudent course to me.

Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.