The “Consumerization” of IT and the Dark Side of the Cloud

Cloud computing is actually being largely driven by the “Consumerization of IT”. That phrase, as grammatically incorrect as it is, represents a fundamental change to the way businesses think about technology, and subsequently how the IT team provides it.

Years ago, technology was introduced by the office. No one owned a mainframe at home of course, and even in the early years of PC’s few people could afford to have them in their houses. Other than game consoles and hobbyists on small computers, most full-up “PC’s” were used for  work. 

That rapidly changed, with the lowering of costs and miniaturization of technology. PC’s and then laptops became ubiquitous in the home, and of course the “smart phone” ushered in an entire generation where the technology available to the consumer outpaced what is installed at the place of work. Many of us have laptops  that are more powerful than some of the servers the company uses in some applications.

IT as a department grew up in the era of the “office-first” technology. Modern users, especially those controlling the budget, are now more “home-first” technology buyers. In extreme cases, I’ve seen IT departments relegated to maintenance of legacy systems, with new IT projects being scoped, designed and run by business teams – usually on a Cloud Computing platform. The business wants to create a technical solution as quickly as they can download an app to their phone. They want the same level of speed and ease that they have on home technology in their business work.

However, this can be problematic if not thought through. As with any new technology, Cloud Computing provides both benefits and concerns. It’s true that almost anyone can quickly stand up a server or deploy an application quickly with nothing more than an e-mail address and a credit card. But business teams are not always aware of areas such as security or similar concerns that the IT teams solved through many hours of careful planning. Unfortunately, it’s often a matter of “Ready, Fire, Aim.”

So what is the business (who wants the agility of a smart phone and a single-click solution) to do? What about the need for security, strategic design, integration and all of the other functions that IT needs to handle? This is where I think Windows Azure (not to be too sales-y) handles the situation well.

If you’re using another cloud provider, by the way, that’s fine. The concepts here are the same.

Microsoft sells an on-premises operating system, and has done for many years. We’ve architected Windows Azure Virtual Machines, Active Directory Services, Platform-as-a-Service, and even the Hadoop and other offerings to work together – and with the tools that you use to manage them today, like System Center and PowerShell.

   To the business team, I say this:

  • Work with your IT staff on projects, even if you’re designing the project and paying for it – the IT professionals can keep you out of danger. Most of them have made the mistakes you're going to make, and know what to do to avoid them.
  • Plan for the future – “This is just a proof-of-concept” project becomes productions in a frighteningly quick period of time.
  • Understand the cost model – a good architect can solve one problem in multiple ways, and cost is always a vector. The IT team can help you with this - they have the relationships with the vendors to consolidate and help you understand those costs.

     To the IT team, I have this advice:

  • Don’t stand in the way of the business – they’ll just go around you. Work with them.  Enable the business to do what they need, when they need it, and they’ll work with you. I've seen both results when I witnessed the mainframe-to-the-PC transition, and I'm seeing it again in the PC-to-the-cloud transition. Change is inevitable - get on board or become irrelevant to the people who pay your salary.
  • Learn the cloud. Talk to your vendor, get training, read up, ask questions. If this bothers the vendor, get a different one.
  • Create a self-service portal. This point may be the most important one. Become your own “Cloud”, and your users won’t need to go elsewhere.  I’ll talk more about how to do this in another post.


In the end, the relationship between IT teams and Business is eerily similar to a marriage – it’s an amazing thing, it takes a lot of work to get right, and the "Consumerization of IT" is that cute person at the end of the bar.Work together or one of you will soon be with somebody new.