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Consumer IT

I read from CNet the news that consumer IT are destroying traditional IT. The news quoted reports from the Gartner Group that consumer IT had invaded enterprises and created challenges for IT departments. Wall Street Journal even published an article aimed at helping business users circumvent their own IT departments through the use of technologies such as Yahoo Messenger, Gmail, USB drives and smartphones. Gartner Group called this Consumerization: The IT Civil War, one that the IT departments are losing.

The phenomenon is happening everywhere and IT departments have become virtually powerless to stop it. There are six consumer technologies that are causing IT the most trouble. There is something that IT should do to turn around a situation that is quickly going from bad to worse in many places.

— Instant messaging software such as Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, or a variety of other IM clients. Instant messaging has spread to the point that as many as 20% of business users or more are now running it at work. The percentage is far higher among younger workers everywhere. Most of the IM clients send data unencrypted, and transfer files not scanned by antivirus software.

— Personal smartphones. Lots of users who don’t have a company smartphone are going out and buying one of their own. Many of them have figured out how to forward their business e-mail to their personal smartphones, which opens up a ton of privacy, regulatory, and security issues.

— BitTorrent and P2P. Transferring big files is very difficult for most users by email, FTP or IM. Some users turn to P2P programs such as BitTorrent, because they are much more effective. Unfortunately, these programs can also be used for hosting and transferring illegal music and video files.

— Web mail with unlimited storage. Another method that users often employ to transfer large company files is with a consumer e-mail account, such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail, which all have much larger storage capacity and allow larger file attachments than most corporate mail accounts. These systems are far less secure than corporate mail servers.

— Rogue wireless access points. It’s a wireless world in home networking now. If the company doesn’t offer wireless LAN access in their office, many users just get cheap wireless access points, plug into their Ethernet jack at work, and start roaming the building.

— USB flash drives. Portable storage is nothing new. Twenty years ago, users were carrying around floppy discs full of files. With the present day large capacity USB flash drives, users can copy all of their files to a flash drive, or copy a huge chunk of a file server and walk out with it on an unencrypted USB drive.

Gartner Group advised IT departments that, “The critical thing to understand is that employees are not doing any of these things to be awkward. They’re not doing it because they’re trying to break security. They’re simply trying to get their job done.” IT departments should find out what constraints are forcing employees to do something that is out of control, and then fix the problem, like giving them the option of using an in-house, secure, controlled environment that meets all of their needs.

Ultimately, this “civil war” is a sign of two larger problems that IT must address:

1. The policies and attitudes that allowed IT department to deploy important technologies while protecting users from themselves are no longer valid in a world where individual users often have newer and more advanced technologies in their homes than the IT department has in the office. IT is now entering into more of partnership with users, and policies and attitudes need to reflect that.

2. There’s a general disconnect and lack of constructive communications between many IT departments and their users. IT departments need to view themselves as customer service organizations, with their users being their primary customers. IT departments have got to lose their paternalistic approach to users and focus their efforts around serving users and enabling them to become more productive. The IT departments that make these changes will thrive. The ones that don’t will see their role within the organization diminished and become prime targets for outsourcing.