I received an interesting invitation yesterday to a CIO/CTO/Chief Architect event for an innovative PaaS company that used the acronym “CoIT” for the “Consumerization of IT”. I found this momentarily humorous as I wondered whether that moniker used to describe the “CoIT” trend domestically would be termed “CoITUS”…. That would seem complementary to Jack Madden‘s “FUIT” acronym.
So after I determined that I have a true geek sense of humor and that I have no business trying to interject comedic zingers into my blog posts (see, Jack Madden and the guys at ConsumerizeIT.com, aka FUIT.com, are actually funny and much better at that sort of thing than I am), I started thinking about how consumerization has been equated so much lately with BYO programs. Truth is, it’s so much more than that.
Certainly BYO programs are a common, highly visible and tangible reflection of how consumerization is affecting IT, but it’s only part of the picture. BYO by nature includes mobility, which in turn includes applications and platforms, which in turn includes cloud, API’s, and infrastructure. Consumerization quickly becomes an adjunct or evolution of an entire IT ecosystem, not just a bolt-on or pilot program to an existing infrastructure. Done properly, I’d argue that from an enterprise architectural perspective it’s more of a paradigm shift in design than it is a trend influencing which appliance you buy or mobile device platform you support in your organization’s technology portfolio.
This isn’t a novel concept, but I think it’s one that is too often overlooked and drowned out by the corporate marketing machines looking to sell BYO-friendly goods and services to the C-suite. From an architectural perspective, I see CoIT as a larger model or framework upon which products and services should be designed and delivered. If we look at the drivers for consumerization as being the consumers themselves, we start to see how this framework fits more of a traditional architecture and development model – we’re creating and enabling technology based on features, workflows, habits, and preferences generated by users. You start to see it’s not much different from traditional development models and warrants the same consideration in solutions design and development.
Consumerization is far more than an IT initiative to allow personal iOS devices on the corporate network. Without a true solution architecture behind it, consumerization becomes a series of projects or programs that stitch together some features and functionality that the vendors promised would enable your users to work the way they want to. The problem with that approach is sort of the Frankenstein effect, where you can potentially end up with a stitched-together monster that is difficult to manage and will always be separate pieces conglomerated together and not an integrated, holistic solution. That fragmentation and separation often is more than just technical – users, devices, services often get siloed that way also and often end up being managed and serviced separately, making the solution more complex for IT to manage.
Finally, in considering the overall consumerization evolution, applications and infrastructure need to be considered in more depth than just how they enable Android or iOS compatibility. A lot of CIO/CTO’s and IT shops already get this – it’s clear in how they evaluate native mobile applications vs. HTML5 or virtualized applications, or how they recognize that there needs to be separation in corporate vs. personal data. API standards, policy orchestration, and universal management tools are really what we need here, and where I see the most potential for growth for vendors offering CoIT solutions. This may be where the most disruption from the paradigm shift occurs within an organization, as CoIT branches out past the IT department. Development of internal and customer applications now needs to become more broad for compatibility, yet more streamlined for efficiency. The ability for dev teams to publish their code once and have it be delivered and used with as uniform a user experience as possible is no small task, but innovations in middleware (yes, the rebirth of the middleware platform!) here may be the key. I see a lot of exciting things in this space that should help meet these lofty goals (middleware API standards for translating base code to platform-specific applications, run-time architectures, etc.). The same holds true for security and policy orchestration – the other necessary components of a CoIT architecture. This is probably also one of the most legitimate and valid scenarios that should include cloud computing. Cloud platforms give the necessary extensibility, flexibility, and ubiquity for these solutions, and arguably more efficiently in terms of management, time to deliver, and overall cost (even if done as private or hybrid cloud).
My assertion is that we, as architects, technologists, and executives need to advocate more strongly to our vendors to develop more holistic solutions with these considerations in mind. We get the BYO branding already – let’s focus on the bigger picture. Consumerization is so much more than whether I can use Dropbox on my iPhone at work and access my corporate e-mail and company data while on the road. It’s a sum total of how I work, the tools I need, the security and management my company needs, and the ease and efficiency with which all of that is delivered. I think that’s truly what will turn the tide of CoIT and change it from a “trend” to an integral part of how we design, build, and deliver technology to our users.