2011 – The Year When Irresistible Force Met Immovable Object

Kylie Fowler is a regular columnist for The ITAM Review (see tag: Kylie Fowler). Here Kylie writes her first article for The ITSM Review.

As we blithely march into the bold new world that is 2012, I’d like to take a pause to take a look back at 2011, which I would contend is one of the most momentous years in corporate computing.

Why? Because 2011 was the year of an extraordinarily swift paradigm shift, triggered by the introduction of the irresistible, mesmerizing gadget that is Apple’s iPad into Corporate Boardrooms everywhere and enabled by the same virtualization technology that is supporting the shift to the cloud.

But a simple change in technology is not in itself a paradigm shift, nor is Apple’s iPad particularly revolutionary, although it feels that way to users – after all, laptops and 3G cards have been around for years. The paradigm shift is that in 2011 IT Departments have surrendered control over their end user technology, and don’t really expect to be in the driving seat ever again!

All the ingredients for this change have been in place for several years now, but CIOs and their asset managers have been resisting the change on the grounds of information security and cost. It took the sudden demand en masse for iPads in the C-suite to break the chains of control over end user technology and shift thinking away from command and control of individual devices to the technology free-for-all that we will enjoy in 2012 and beyond.

What are the ingredients that have both demanded and enabled this change?

Consumer technology is now more powerful than corporate PCs

Corporate End User technology choices used to be driven by a need to process data effectively (ever more complex software required ever more processing power) and store secure data securely while minimizing costs. The outcome was that corporate desktop computers had highly standardized hardware and software (to minimise support overheads) were tightly controlled (to ensure data security) and were generally more powerful than the PCs most employees had at home.

However a combination of cheaper processing power, the rise of visually sophisticated computer games and fast home broadband meant that even 5 years ago the majority of new home PCs provided a far sleeker user experience than clunky work machines that were optimised for spreadsheets.

For several  years now End Users have been frustrated that the technology they used at home was so much better than the technology they had available at work, but they were unable to do anything about it until Senior Executives ignored IT concerns about data security and demanded they be allowed to use iPads.

Smartphones have made technology personal and very, very sexy

Through the technology dark ages (aka the 1960s and 1970s) and into the noughties, personal prestige and social status was signaled by the car you drove, or, for a woman, by the type of car your boyfriend drove!

Modern technology (and feminine emancipation!) means that this role has been largely taken over by the mobile phone. Everyone has one and they come in myriad shapes and sizes. Some are expensive, some are cheap, but they all make a statement about who we are, whether we like it or not.

Smart phones take this personalization a step further. They are a filofax plus – calendar, contacts, games, photos, music, TV shows, books, everything that makes us an individual has a place in our smartphones, and it won’t stop there – watch out for the introduction of mobile money into the developed world very soon.

The laptop and blackberry of a corporate road warrior used to signal superior status, but the flexibility, personality and sheer fun of a modern smartphone has completely up-staged these more staid corporate badges. Again, credit goes to Messrs Jobs and Ive for making smartphones irresistible.

Virtualisation Technology allows IT to control only the things it needs to

Virtualisation technologies have also been around for years. However the old command and control mindset meant that the vision being sold was one of ‘thin clients’ reminiscent of the dumb terminals of the mainframe era. The thin client concept gave IT even more control over the end user experience, dictating exactly what end users could see and do on their computers, wiping the slate clean every night and recreating a pure, unsullied desktop every morning. Great for call centre workers in daily contact with sensitive data, not so much fun – or necessary – for the rest of us.

The real power of virtualization comes with the combination of a virtual private network (VPN) and a virtual desktop to allow users to access the applications and data they need from any machine while letting them install games, photos, and music to their hearts content.

Of course this creates risks in itself – how do you prove the software on an unlocked machine is legal? What if an employee downloads something illegal onto their machine? To deal with this problem, many firms are allowing themselves to lose control even further and are contemplating requiring employees to purchase their own IT equipment – the ‘bring your own device’ (BOYD) revolution.

Corporate content will be delivered in a strictly controlled way over the VPN, while the computer itself, the hard drive, the processor etc belongs purely to the user.

But does this really amount to a paradigm shift? And has it really occurred in the space of just one year, 2011?

I would argue yes.

The traditional way of approaching end user computing was for IT departments to hoard control and maintain a certain mystique around the technology they commanded. This article published in February 2011 in ITPro epitomizes the old command and control approach as it discusses how to secure mobile devices, while this article, published in October 2011 on the same website positively urges IT Departments to forgo control and embrace diversity through BYOD while ensuring data is secure through the use of virtualization technologies.

Kylie Fowler
IT Departments, and indeed end users themselves, will be nervous about BYOD for several years to come. Support issues have the potential to cause major headaches, and although it is easy to say that hardware support is the end user’s problem, anyone telling that to a C-Suite Executive who can’t work because her computer has broken down will find their career cut nastily short! Adoption of BYOD may be slow and piecemeal in conservative industries and companies, but I have little doubt the revolution will happen.

So 2011 is the year in which the irresistible force of consumer demand met the seemingly immovable object that is IT Departments’ ownership over end user technology and IT Departments realised they can, and indeed must, cede control.

A momentous year indeed!