User-Centric IT

I went to an interesting CEO/CIO gathering a few weeks back where the concept of User-Centric IT was presented by some of the leading cloud providers.  The concept, pushed and marketed by Box, Marketo, Skyhigh, Jive, Okta, Zendesk, and GoodData, professes that enterprise software should first and foremost focus on the needs of the end-user.   To be more specific, the principles of User-Centric IT are:

  1. User-Centric IT serves the business by empowering people.
  2. User-Centric IT adapts to the way people work, not the other way around.
  3. People, information and knowledge must connect in real-time.
  4. Mobility is a work-style preference, not a device.
  5. Security should be inherent and transparent to the user experience.

In my view, User-Centric IT is real and is part of the changing expectations of enterprise users due to the rise of the Consumerization of IT, and the pervasiveness of the cloud.  The principles of empowerment, mobility, and real-time connections are all standard in consumer technologies today.  It’s these expectations that are driving enterprise IT to change its focus to how the user works.  Work is now a thing and not a place.  No longer are applications just about functionality, with UI design an afterthought.  Employees are using great, user-centric tools at home and they expect the same easy to use tools while working.  The same concept is driving BYOD where users have choices in the devices they use, opting for the more consumer oriented devices.  User-Centric IT uses these same principles in empowering users to be more productive, while wrapping it all up with the security enterprises require out of their applications.

These principles are also what’s great about the cloud and why legacy apps and on-prem software face an uphill battle.  As I come across more and more industry vertical, cloud based options these days, it’s wonderful to see how each new company has taken usability to a higher level.  Of course, the social and mobile trends taking over many enterprises are the other forces driving this concept. Can’t argue with that.

The various vendors who have joined forces in marketing this principle all have products that come at the issue from different angles, whether it be enterprise collaboration, security, identity, marketing or analytics.  What they all have in common is a goal towards user enablement and mobility.  Now, some will argue that this concept is just pure marketing with no real substance.  There is definitely a marketing bent to it no doubt,  but the underlying core message does resonate with those of us who believe these trends are real.  Whether you just call it the Consumerization of IT or something else, you can’t argue with principles.  As a real believer of the how the cloud is quickening the pace of innovation in businesses and the inherent value it creates, peeling back the marketing layer uncovers real trends.

At the event, there was a lot of discussion about the challenges this brings to CIO’s.  Some were concerned about cloud sprawl, while others are dealing with deeply entrenched legacy apps that can’t just be switched or upgraded overnight.  There was also a discussion on User-Led IT vs. User-Centric IT.  User-Led is where integration, security, data  quality, and governance is given little value, focusing purely on the best looking and quickest to implement.  User-Centric IT takes this up a level, valuing the needs of the employee, but layering on the real security, integration and data quality requirements enterprises need.   These are real issues and real concerns, but it shouldn’t stop the conversation.  I believe that the CIO’s that are truly innovating and driving cloud adoption today, with an eye on social and mobile, are already using these principles for transformation and innovation.  As the cloud becomes even more entrenched as the go-to strategy for companies, concepts like User-Centric IT will be become more commonplace.

Here is a link to the User-Centric IT website


Consumerization of IT – Happily Turning Enterprise IT on its Head

The proliferation and acceptance of cloud computing has had a lasting effect on enterprise IT, and it’s still early in that evolution.   But as we look at the changing expectations of our users, the transformation is being led by a more comprehensive trend; the Consumerization of IT.  This trend has changed how IT leaders, business executives, managers, and all employees throughout an organization think about IT at work.   All of this has turned Enterprise IT on its head, and we’re better off for it.

There have been wonderful advances in the technology available to us in our daily lives (consumers), led by Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Vine, Dropbox, Instagram, etc..  How we view and use technology has changed as technology has become pervasive in our daily lives.  The advancement of consumer oriented technologies, and their encroachment into enterprise IT, have evolved over the last 10 years.  Initially led by Blackberry with the first really useful hand-held mobile device, followed by Apple and the innovative and easy to use iPhone, employees now expect the same access, simplicity, and pleasant user interfaces at work as they have at home.  As technology has also become intertwined in our daily lives, the consumer driven devices we use are becoming standard at work, and the tools and expectations have blended together.

What this means for Enterprise IT is that we as IT leaders need to understand how this affects our employees and the heightened expectations of our users. CIO’s need to understand this shift and embrace it.  Most CIO’s I know get this and have done just that over the last few years, but there are many that aren’t seeing what’s happening.  They look at it from the perspective of the secure walls of enterprise IT being torn down.  The safe zone is being intruded upon.  CIO’s can’t think this way and they will be left behind and replaced if they continue to do this.

Specifically, the Consumerization of IT has changed the expectation levels of users in the following ways:

  1. The applications used at work. The apps we deliver for our users can no longer be filled with endless features but short on usability.  An easy and clean UI is essential.  Uncluttered with clear menus is a must, as is a quick and intuitive search capability (hello Microsoft – SharePoint search sucks). Simplicity is key and browser-based design is expected.
  2. The devices our employees use for work.  BYOD has become standard as employees no longer want multiple devices for their work and home lives, nor do they want the heavy bricks affectionately called work laptops.  Tablets and slim laptops are in high demand, while Blackberries have dwindled or gone away.  Oh, and everyone now seems to require 2 monitors to work.  Additionally, some companies are now providing employees with yearly stipends to purchase devices of their choosing.  This has created turmoil for internal help-desk functions, but then again our younger users don’t need nor want our help.
  3. Increased expectations for mobile and remote accessibility. As the line has blurred between work and home life, accessing business services while commuting, traveling, or working from home has increased exponentially.  Our users are checking emails, looking for files, accessing applications, and providing enhanced customer support from any location, at any time.  Therefore, our applications and services must be easily and simply available on these devices at all times.
  4. The speed in delivering new and enhanced solutions.  Elongated, half-year development programs are too long.  If users have to wait 6 months for new development, they’re just as likely to go off and procure a cloud app themselves to meet their needs.  This might happen anyway (more on that another time), but there is no reason why internal IT can’t be agile too, delivering cloud apps or quick, simple enhancements in a shorter and iterative fashion.

Huge transformations are happening within enterprise IT because of these factors and CIO’s needs to understand this and embrace it.  No more of the IT bottleneck or the refusal to accept the convergence of consumer expectations.  If they don’t accept these changes, their replacements will.

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