The Consumer Future of Business IT

'Your Helpdesk/Service Desk may be closer to serving a consumer culture than you think' writes Tracey Caldwell.

IT departments are losing control over the IT used in their companies. The days of bestowing a technology solution on grateful masses seem increasingly distant. The users are revolting and bringing consumer technologies which they are finding useful outside work to the workplace. Technology news feeds and business technology blogs are just as interested in social networking and mobile telephony as they are in gigabytes of this or new versions of that.

Market research giant Gartner Group has come up with a word for this trend - consumerisation. Gartner reckons consumerisation is a catalyst for the growing conflict between the traditional enterprise IT function, which has been in sole charge of enterprise IT architecture, and the growing desire and ability of employees to influence their use of IT. IT staff may have other words for it, believing consumerisation spells disaster for compliance, security and support, and perhaps the entire IT infrastructure of their business.

Gartner has even put out a special report about it and warns businesses to change their attitudes toward consumer-led technology appearing in the enterprise from ‘unavoidable nuisance’ to ‘opportunity for additional innovation’. A bit of a surprise then that it was reported as joining a host of other commentators warning businesses off the iphone at its launch worrying about security and voice quality issues.

True, quite a few technologies that started out as consumer technologies have made an impact in corporate IT from PCs to today’s invasion of the enterprise by consumer-led instant messaging and desktop search.

As web-based companies put out beta technology and let consumers make what they will of it and work out how to make money out of it, savvy business chiefs can’t wait for the technology to mature, as they might have done once. But what consumer technology is hot and what is not? Gartner thinks it has the answers.

Apparently the next round of consumer-led innovations that are likely to have a real effect on revenue or internal spending and processes within three years include web-based application services spreading into business use, private communications channels such as email and IM being overtaken by community communication where privacy is not taken for granted, desktop videoconferencing and portable virtual machines.

Users are already showing worrying (for the Helpdesk or Service Desk) interest in running virtual environments on their PC, not least prompted by incompatibilities of new systems. Some enterprises are already looking to reflect this by implementing a virtual desktop environment as their server-based system of choice. This brings a whole host of security concerns but it looks like the bullet will have to be bitten and security concerns addressed because Gartner forecasts great things for virtualisation.

Further into the future, it thinks virtual technologies will be extended to produce augmented realities where a PC or mobile device will provide an interface and information relevant to the context of location of the user. Unboggle your minds and think of applications in plant maintenance, for example, training, computer aided surgery or PCB diagnostics.