It was something predicted by research firm Gartner as early as 2006 as the "single most important trend impacting IT in the next ten years." End-users, caught between the sandwich of productivity and strict control of IT over the enterprise, end up resorting to consumer technologies in addressing their workloads.

Analysts call it the "consumerisation of IT", where the once hardline fortresses of the enterprise are slowly being penetrated by consumer technologies. If there is a single most polarizing trend in the industry today, more than the Apple vs. Android debacle, or the to-cloud or not-to-cloud debate, it would definitely be consumerization.

The rise of consumer ITIt is such an overwhelming phenomenon that the once-dominant IT department, which used to have the monopoly of control over access devices, are slowly being asked to bend to the wills of the end users. "[There is] a significant shift in how technology is being adopted for enterprise use, in that it's no longer just the IT department dictating which devices and technologies will be used; employees are taking the reins," according to a recent report by security firm RSA on the same topic.

Gopinath KN, director for engineering of AirTight networks, believes the boom of WiFi use gave birth to such a consumerization of IT. "Wi-Fi support has made its way into all kinds of consumer devices , from smartphones to gaming consoles, cameras, DVD players and televisions ,and it is often implemented with native connection sharing capabilities," he explains.

Because access devices need not be literally put on a leash and tied to a desk, employees are able to pick from a bevy of consumer technologies,from smartphones to netbooks,to be more productive at work. That newer, cheaper, and faster devices are being thrown out into the market every year has only compounded its adoption in the enterprise.

Smartphone Omenon

Evidences of IT's consumerisation first made its presence felt with the rise of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) by executives to track their busy schedules. It was followed by the boom of BlackBerry use in the enterprise, what with its capabilities for push email and other messaging functions.

In 2007, however, the phenomenon was further accelerated when tech visionary Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone to the world. With its touchscreen design never before seen on a smartphone, as well as a robust mobile operating system that made it possible,and cheap, to install applications, the iPhone was a huge hit, phenomenal, even, not only among consumers, but within the enterprise space as well.

To further underscore the iPhone's huge enterprise success, just recently, international bank Standard Chartered dumped their BlackBerry handsets in exchange for iPhone units. "We're all about moving forward," explains Jan Verplancke, CIO and Group Head of Technology and Operations for Standard Chartered, "and we believe that giving people complete mobile access to the systems they need to do their job will dramatically increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Time is a commodity in our business. [We] have to be able to connect to the office wherever we are, at any given time."

A new contender, however, is steadily climbing to grab the top spot, in the form of Google's Android mobile operating system. With its open architecture based on Linux, it has positioned itself as the antithesis to the iPhone. With just a year into development, Android has grown as much as 16% of its market share, compared to iPhone's 4% growth this year.

Tablet wars

All the rage about consumer devices isn't being waged on the smartphone arena alone, however. On the tablet space, Apple has once again set things in motion with the release of Apple iPad, a 10-inch tablet device operating on iOS.

With its hefty price tag, however, well-off business executives were mostly the first ones to adopt the iPad. "Enterprise executives are among the earliest adopters of new mobile technology: phones, messaging devices, and multimedia devices which combines productivity, utility, social engagement, and entertainment into one compact tool," notes Luichi Robles, country manager, Symantec Philippines.

The rise of consumer IT

Hewlett-Packard, during this year's CES in January, hinted about the creation of its own tablet offering called the Slate, purported to support Microsoft's Windows 7.

Korean tech firm Samsung, on the other hand, joined the tablet fray recently with its 7-inch, Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab. Most recently, BlackBerry maker Research in-Motion unveiled its tablet contender, the BlackBerry Playbook, touted as the first multi-tasking, multi-processing tablet, an obvious hit at Apple iPad's processing powers.

Consumer technology firms, however, are not the only ones joining the stiffening tablet competition. Seeing the tablet UI as an opportunity to offer intuitive communication and computing options to users, networking giant Cisco made the Cius, while enterprise communications vendor Avaya unveiled its Avaya Flare UI running on a desktop video device.

Cisco's Cius, a 7-inch device, is targeted mainly for collaboration and videoconferencing. Avaya's Flare, however, is being positioned by the company as the ultimate unified communications device for the enterprise. "Today, the buzzword is unified communications, but the user experience for UC is not unified at all," Ed Doctolero, senior country director, Avaya Philippines, told Computerworld Philippines in a recent interview. "There are a lot of choices for communication, and to be able to shift from one channel to another, you'd have to cut off your current communication."

Business goes social

The last of these consumer technologies inundating IT shops around the world involve the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, in most companies' marketing departments.

"The rise of interest in Web 2.0-based social tools for business use (also known as Enterprise 2.0) is in many ways a sister trend," notes Scott Finnie in an article for Computerworld. Because social media tools allow for easier communication and collaboration, whether it be to customers or internal users, many firms have jumped on to the bandwagon.

"Social networking is increasingly being adopted into the workplace as it becomes an important mode of communication and community living of employees," relates Symantec's Robles. "Some organisations use social networking as a part of their business strategy in reaching existing and potential customers."

The rise of consumer ITBecause enterprise users are also normal, everyday consumers using social media at the end of the day, oftentimes, they find the tools they're comfortable with contributory to their work. "I asked you for help, you're unable to help me, but here's the Web site that can do what I need," Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, pointed out, referring to a frequently recurring discussion between employees and their IT shops.

Two poles of debate

With social networking in particular, CIOs and IT Managers are happily treading on either sides of the consumerization fence. On one side, some IT executives are completely blocking social media access, and other consumer device access, for that matter, due to security reasons. On the other side, some are confidently opening the enterprise gates to welcome social media as a potent tool for communication and collaboration.

As with any emerging technology, the main beef of CIOs is security. "With the rise of the utilisation of consumer technologies, information has never been easier to access," emphasises Robles. "However, securing and managing information is a serious challenge aggravated by the rapid adoption of wireless data services."

In an informal survey of Philippine CIOs and IT managers, Computerworld Philippines found out that majority of IT executives (at least 80%) ban the use of consumer devices in the workplace outright. On average, at least 10% of technologies used in Philippine enterprises are from the consumer space, used only by higher-level management and those who need it for their line of work.

"The entrance of consumer technologies poses a high risk on information security," reasons Erienne Lao, CIO of Eastern Communications. "Before we can fully integrate the use of mobile devices and social media into our workflow, we have to strengthen our information security infrastructure."

For the IT manager of a major mall operator, the issue is not merely security, but legal. "The company is software legal, but cannot monitor or stop employees from using their personal equipment, especially if they are on the field, which may have illegal software installed," she points out.

According to IDC Philippines' annual Continuum survey, consumer technology use is relegated mainly to decision-makers and mid-level management. "Across vertical markets, companies either ignore or generally prohibit employers from accessing company email thru 'rogue' consumer devices," Jubert Alberto, IDC Philippines' research manager, points out.

Taking a stand

The root of the debate, therefore, lies in managing and gaining visibility of such consumer devices and technologies, which tend to compromise the mere off-shoot of the lack of it, which is security.

Even analysts and experts are divided on the matter. Analyst firm Ovum believes social media use in the enterprise should be regulated. "The financial services industry has already made it a requirement that communications through social media are recorded and retained," Aphrodite Brinsmead, an Ovum analyst, says. "We think this needs to go a step further and that all organizations using social media to interact with customers should be regulated."

The rise of consumer IT

Gartner and the Security for Business Innovation Council (SBIC), however, would disagree. "It would be a mistake for any company toput its head in the sand or to dig in its heels; because the tide will be working against you," relates SBIC member David Kent. "It would be much better to recognize it and then create the parameters to make it work for you."

Gartner, meanwhile, underscores the iPad's disruptive characteristics, and highlights the usual route Apple takes with its offerings, which tend to control specific segments of the market (as in the case of the iPod and the music distribution business). "The price of early investigation to explore the opportunities that this device brings will be small, and the cost of delay could be significant or even fatal to enterprises," it emphasises.

No matter where firms stand on the consumerization debate, it's important to make a stand today or eventually face the consequences of indecision in the future. "IDC believes that there is no wrong or right choice on this matter. The bottomline would still be the company's need to have their employees connect to the company infrastructure through rogue devices," remarks Adeb Byron Rabelas, associate market analyst, IDC Philippines.

Bart Perkins, managing partner at Leverage Partners, Inc., concurs: "IT cannot afford to turn away from this increasingly important issue. It's better to agree on a corporate policy, publicize it and start budgeting for the projected impact. Do nothing and you risk having your corporation appear in The Wall Street Journal as the latest entity to have its security breached, its data compromised and its CIO replaced." , with notes from Gopinath KN, Scot Finnie, Tim Greene, Bart Perkins (IDG News Service)