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."