How consumer tech is transforming IT

October 31, 2011, 2:52 PM UTC
Fortune



Fun.
Today, business users are demanding a consumer-like experience at work. People are asking, “How come the technology in my person life is so great but, at work, it sucks so much?” Meet the new class of business technology consumers. You could call them “bizumers.”

Where did they come from? Over the last five years, we’ve witnessed a consumer technology revolution led by Apple (AAPL), Facebook, Google (GOOG), Netflix (NFLX) and Flipboard — among many others. As consumers, we are enjoying big breakthroughs in mobile devices, Web 2.0 services and, generally, simpler user experiences. Technology has never been more fun or effective.

Except at work. Enterprise technology seems bankrupt where simplicity and elegance are concerned. (There’s no doubt the raw power and capability of enterprise technology — from massive server farms to sophisticated algorithms — is greater than at any other time.) The result has been the creation of a massive gulf between our personal and professional experience with technology.



Not fun.
Consider the typical knowledge worker’s daily experience: a brick of a laptop, a lousy intranet, legacy ERP and CRP applications and … Microsoft (MSFT) Office. Or, consider how bad old-line email is for collaboration relative to Facebook or Twitter’s social experiences. (It’s little surprise that the biggest innovation in e-mail in the last decade — nested conversations — came from a consumer application, Gmail, and only recently found its way into Office.) Even worse, at work it can be hard to get simple stuff done, like getting a travel request approved, an expense report paid, finding the right data, document, person, conference room, report or chart.

The average employee knows that consumer apps are user-friendly, easy to ramp up and do more to help them create — all for less money than traditional enterprise IT. While CIOs have talked about the “consumerization” of IT, few have made inroads on this agenda. And yet, employees are demanding:

*Tablets
*Smartphones
*App stores filled with hundreds of small, lightweight, disposable, zero-training, mobile-style apps
*The ability to choose and use cloud-based “free-mium apps”
*Social collaboration

Forward-leaning IT organizations are re-structuring their architecture to reflect these desires by embracing new mobile platforms and cloud computing, while creating custom bizumer apps housed inside enterprise app stores. They are also letting people choose (or even bring in) their own smart phones, tablets and laptops. But to survive in the future, legacy enterprise vendors will have to atomize their monolithic modules into hundreds of smaller, more usable apps. Imagine a refashioned an accounting system like SAP (SAP) or Oracle (ORCL) as hundreds of enjoyable-to-use iPad-style apps.

These transformations are already happening. Services include:

*YouSendIt, which replaces the FTP site with a simple-to-use, web-based file-sharing service.
*Evernote, which stores docs, photos, pdfs and Web clippings on a mobile-accessible cloud.
*Egnyte (where I’m an advisor), a file-storage that is cloud-based an accessible across platforms.
*Chatter, a collaboration app from Salesforce.com, which uses a familiar social-media interface.

And there are many more. They more or less share important common characteristics:

*They are cloud-based, with a small footprint
*They are streamlined, with 3-5 major functions
*They require zero IT support
*They are the future

The bizumer revolution is on. With tech-savvy Millennials entering the workforce, resistance is futile. They are using a new style of consumer-like business apps to drive the biggest, button-up change in business computing in a decade. All inspired by how they use technology in their personal lives. It’s not a matter of “if” it will happen, but “when.”

Christopher Lochhead is former technology executive, now strategy advisor & partner with Play Bigger Advisors.