Consumerisation of Technology

Consumerisation of technology is a concept that is taxing the minds of IT Directors and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) of very large companies. If you haven’t heard of it before, relax, but read on because it has almost certainly had an impact on you as an individual and will affect your business too.

Martin King-Turner, Director of the National B2B Centre explains what consumerism is all about and why you should be thinking about it.

What is Consumerisation of Technology?
15 years ago technology was still largely driven by the needs of business. Hardware and software innovations mainly came about as part of the need to make businesses cheaper to run or to improve the quality of the products or services being delivered.

In the past 15 years technological progress has largely been driven by the need to give consumers what they want. Technology has gone from geeky to sexy in the form of extremely powerful personal computers, very clever mobile devices that blur the lines between computers and phones, gaming consoles that double as online video viewers, and a multiplicity of websites, online shops, fun apps and powerful applications.

That’s part of Consumerisation. The other part goes somewhat unnoticed: most of this stuff just works when you switch it on. Hardware and software have become more intuitive to use and more reliable – some people call it the Apple effect. In fact problems become newsworthy because they don’t happen so often or we notice, for instance, that one website doesn’t work as well as another and we stop using it.

So how does this impact on us?

Big Business Perspective
It is worth mentioning the big business perspective because there issues will be our issues some day, no doubt. For corporations one aspect of Consumerisation is seen as a particularly big issue. Nowadays employees may have much better technology at home than they would normally receive at work – think smart phones, iPads, laptops etc. They are also much more technologically aware than in the past. So do these companies tell their staff that they can’t use all of their sophisticated equipment and know how?

IT departments are fighting a rear guard action against allowing this to happen. Partly because there are genuine security risks of allowing lots of different devices and applications to connect to the corporate infrastructure and partly because they don’t want to relinquish control.

In practical terms this means that companies can restrict their own ability to achieve success. One company that we know has locked out all social media access. This is fine if you think everybody is going to spend all their time on Facebook but not so good when you consider that nobody in the company including the MD can have a LinkedIn profile.

SME Perspective
Actually 2 perspectives. Let’s look at Consumerisation firstly from your point of view as a business user and then from your customer’s perspective.

Business Use
As business users you can take advantage of all of this consumerised technology or perhaps just use more of it and there are lots of ways that this could happen.

Can you switch from large scale business applications such as office tools or accounting packages to cloud based alternatives from either your existing supplier or new providers? Think Microsoft Office to Office 365 or Google Docs. We have talked about the Cloud in previous articles as being a flexible, sometimes cheaper, way of getting powerful applications. In this context they may well also come without all of the unnecessary “bells and whistles” and be easier to use.

Interestingly this approach also allows you to take advantage of the fact that your team may have better computing equipment than you. If applications are available online then people can access them from any device. Perhaps you don’t have to spend loads of money every time somebody new joins your company (security issues notwithstanding).

There are opportunities to save money in other ways too. Some pretty big organisations use tools like Skype, for instance, for international calls and impromptu videoconferencing –therefore so can you. Dropbox is one of many services that provide free online storage (up to 2 GB) as a straight forward way of backing up data or sharing large files with colleagues, suppliers or clients. And Google’s Gmail is an example of online email systems that can be adapted to provide a full business email service for free.

Your Customers
The second perspective to take is that of your customers because the Consumerisation of technology means that their expectations of you are constantly increasing. For any of you who are designing or building any form of technology then the key challenge is to achieve what inventor of wiki software Ward Cunningham described as “what’s the simplest thing that could possibly work?”

For the rest of us then the lessons apply very particularly to those areas of your business where you connect with your customers. This could be websites and social media channels, but it could equally apply to the telephone based sales and customer services, or even the documentation (for instance contracts) you send out.

These customer interfaces need to be as simple and intuitive as possible. If they aren’t and especially if there are better alternatives from your rivals then you have a problem.

Dealing with Consumerisation
I would like to position Consumerisation of technology more as an opportunity than a problem. Consumerisation is leading to more powerful, more effective and more cost effective technology with which to run our businesses. The B2B Centre provides updates through our newsletters, website, Twitter and LinkedIn on new tools and ways of working that are part of this trend, and there are plenty of other sources where you can gain insights from The Gadget Show on TV to websites like Mashable.

At the same time there is a challenge for all of us to ensure that the way that we do business matches or at least stays in touch with the leaders in the market. I see two key areas for SMEs to consider:

  1. Taking some independent IT advice before making large purchases of business oriented systems.The default for many small companies is to go straight to suppliers. Without being disrespectful they may be selling the past rather than what’s best now. Talking to people who understand what’s available across the market could reduce your technology expenditure or get you “more bang for your buck”.
  2. Looking at the processes that underpin business activity.One problem that we frequently see is that the way companies deal with clients is based on old assumptions and old capabilities. For instance in the past it might have been important to capture all kinds of customer details in order to, for instance, post a reply back or run a credit check. But if you have enquiry forms on your website that still ask for full address or personal information you might find not many people want to play ball.

    Thinking carefully about the steps and information requirements to carry out all the activities that make up your business, and making appropriate changes is really important.

So technology has become cool and we all expect simpler, faster and cheaper devices, applications and ways of doing things. But that means your customers might be expecting the same things of you.

So now is the time to take stock and look around at your business to see where it is keeping pace and where it’s not.

Consumerisation is new to the SME world and we are trying to make sense of its real world impact. I would be delighted to find out what your views on this topic are.

Is it something you need to contemplate? Or another trendy idea you can ignore.

Martin King-Turner
Managing Director, The National B2B Centre Ltd.

Filed under: IT