The 21-year-old intern didn't mean to set off an email tornado. She simply asked the executive VP at a billion-dollar-a-year company why the e-commerce site didn't work on an iPhone. The executive VP is the type of non-IT exec your staff fears: tech junkie who loves gadgets, from iPhone to Xbox to Xoom to Internet TV.
He didn't have a good answer, especially since the company had been doing some major e-commerce upgrades over the last few years. You can guess what happened next--a frenzy of emails, phone calls, and quick meetings to find out exactly where IT's head was at for not iPhone-enabling the e-commerce site. A classic firestorm.
And a great opportunity for the company.
The truth is, the company's IT leaders didn't factor mobile devices into their upgrade plan. That decision, or nondecision, wasn't based upon market research or any data analysis; it just wasn't on their radar. They had bigger fish to fry and hadn't really thought about mobility. Not good.
But rather than come up with a half-baked fix, the company's IT leaders took a serious look at the opportunity. They started by analyzing existing customer buying patterns and interactions. Less than 1% of visits came from mobile devices, they learned. But that could be a chicken-and-egg problem; the company doesn't have mobile visitors because the site isn't mobile-friendly. So the team dug deeper.
The company has an active email marketing program, so IT looked at what devices customers use to open the email it sends. Less than 1% of the emails were opened on mobile devices. Day of the week or time of day didn't matter. Customers just weren't using mobile devices as part of their relationships with the company.
This finding told IT it didn't have to go into panic mode, but it also created a benchmark data point to watch--if the company sees more people opening emails with mobile devices, a mobile site should move up the priority list. It also provided a golden opportunity for the company's IT leaders to discuss customer data analytics with the executive team. They were already talking about the need for key performance indicators beyond just sales figures. and this led them to integrate stats such as Web activity, phone calls, and email volumes into analysis of customer behavior. Executives knew there were some big gaps in the data warehouse and business intelligence tools they needed to do that analysis, and this discussion helped get that software funded.
What would your company have done? Rush to implement a makeshift iPhone solution? Try to discount the intern as a kid who doesn't know the business? Play the "security card" and walk away? Or would you have stopped with the basic analytics that showed low mobile usage and not dug any deeper?
Too many discussions around the consumerization of IT focus on how to defend against it, or how to minimize the damage. The consumerization of IT isn't wrong; it isn't a threat. It's an evolution that's more about the growth of technology in society, and not particularly about your IT department. An intern with an iPhone shouldn't set the tech priorities for a business, but consumerization of IT does mean you need to be open to great tech ideas coming from employees throughout the company.
The reality is that some of the brightest tech minds aren't in IT anymore. They're not just "digital natives." We now have users spanning all age groups who understand, accept, and are proficient with a much wider range of technologies than IT could ever shepherd. These people not only have the potential to bring in new ideas, but they can also become the drivers of adoption and supporters of budget increases.
IT Must Bring The Pieces Together
However, just because they're smart and use technology at home doesn't make them IT pros. Like the intern, they're aware of the technology options that can help the business but lack an understanding of how it all fits together.
This is where IT is falling down--big time. Too many IT pros have stopped talking to end users about how they use technology to do their jobs. Sure, we still do road maps for governance or finance groups, but when was the last time your IT organization did any documentation, training, or presentation for the entire company? When was the last time it solicited ideas across the company on how to leverage technology for competitive advantage? When was the last time the security team laid out the actual security threat, rather than just saying no?
Years ago, the end users just didn't get it, and we were the experts. Ten years ago, around 55% of U.S. adults were online; now it's around 80%. Usage of technology has gone up in every age level and across every category for the last decade, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center. Think of the rise of iPads, iPhones, and other doodads as just the market reacting to this growing comfort and understanding of what technology can do. And think of yourself as having the same opportunity inside your business. IT isn't a department anymore; it pervades the entire company.
But tapping into tech innovation from around the company requires IT to give up some control and let others in on decisions IT would rather own exclusively. Device selection, application interface design, and new technology analysis are the three biggest decisions that spring to mind. Opening these to a broader discussion not only brings in fresh ideas, but it also ensures that the entire company understands and accepts the final selections.
The good news is this approach also means you get to push other groups to take more responsibility for their technology domains. HR will now need to own, monitor, and enforce policies on social networking and public comments about the company (once it gets around to writing those policies). Finance can take over PCI compliance, since credit card processing really is part of its function.
We're not suggesting you begin a radical reorganization but, rather, take a fresh look at how you operate. Consumer tech is bringing more people closer to IT. You can defend, block, or ignore it for now, but the next email tornado is going to come anyway.