Everyone quotes Steve Jobs but nobody wants to follow him. I suspect there are two implicit or even explicitly profered conceits behind that: maturity and safety. Maturity is the grown-up pragmatism that a business leader (for this post, a CIO) needs to juggle conflicting criteria: cost, variable preferences over individuals and time, interoperability and compatibility, security, so on. One cannot willy nilly pursue perfection, but instead one must seek the golden middle. Safety on the other hand is the fear expressed in that old saw “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment“. Once a narrative, a legacy value or even mere habit gains hold, it assumes the power of a hard science, and can often be displaced only by a revolution from below (the positive case) or an en masse migration of the field to a newer set of buzzwords (the negative case).
In the past, I have attempted to satirise the buzzword chasing approach to corporate technology use and management. I have also tried to make the case that there is no [longer] such a beast as an “enterprise user” distinct from a plain old user (or “consumer”), that the term consumerisation is the wrong way to look at things. The lesson is nicely illustrated by the story of the ascendance of RIM in the early part of the last decade and its seemingly irreversible death spiral today. I write this not as a premature dance on the impending grave, but to quote Horace Dideu who has come to be a deeply informed voice on mobile technologies, and draws a similar connection between RIM and IT consumerisation:
Furthermore, corporate buyers are themselves being dis-intermediated from the computing purchase decision. Sometimes this process is called “consumerization” but it is more plainly explained as “commoditization”. The selection of tools for workers by a group that claims to understand their needs better than they do is an archaic concept.
Which brings me to the title of this post, which is directed at what Dideu calls the “group that claims to understand [workers] needs better”, the IT organisation, and in particular it’s leader the CIO. Once upon a time IT used to be about primarily user needs. Now it is mainly concerned with corporate goals: cost reduction and other benefits of homogenisation, security, so on. It is not hyperbole to say that the user is today an afterthought.
At the same time, the revolution from below, spearheaded by web apps and services, Apple’s devices and other developments, is growing as a challenge to this IT model and attitude. Corporate control of workers and bean-counting’s control of corporations are strong enough that this revolution can be indefinitely postponed in many enterprises, especially the larger ones. However, an IT organisation that wants to contribute, perhaps even drag the corporation into the future, should reconsider this conservatism or the alternative of safety in buzzwords.