The English language is enhanced daily with new terms. I’m not sure William Shakespeare would still understand it. One term that has appeared over the last couple years is IT consumerization. Although Microsoft’s spell checker does not recognize the word, it already has a definition in Wikipedia:
Consumerization is an increasingly accepted term used to describe the growing tendency for new information technology to emerge first in the consumer market and then spread into business and government organizations. The emergence of consumer markets as the primary driver of information technology innovation is seen as a major IT industry shift, as large business and government organizations dominated the early decades of computer usage and development.
The cloud started with search engines, big data with social networking as well as mobility with mobile apps. Each of those initiated within the consumer market and are now spreading to business and government organizations alike. But they are not three independent concepts and technologies. They are complementary and all 3 combined allow us to address business in totally new ways.
The impact of Consumerization
Cloud in particular is an interesting case. Software as a Service (SaaS) definitely comes from the consumer market, both through the use of search engines and through the use of small browser based applications for gaming and other purpose. In parallel with that, Amazon invented Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to monetize their spare compute capacity, but that has always been more of an IT driven use case. Hence the difference in user experience between SaaS and IaaS. The first is easily consumed; for the second, you better know CLI (command line interpreter) commands. This difference actually highlights the effect of consumerization. Consumerization forces simple and intuitive user experiences, accessible to all.
I remember back in the ‘90s, taking customers to Professor John J. Donovan’s workshops in Boston. There they were shown how—using business intelligence and rapid development methodologies—they could visualize the status of their enterprise in a matter of hours. His audiences typically included CEO’s and CFO’s, who once at home, pressured their CIO’s to give them the same functionality. I remember how perplexed CIOs were who had to explain that things weren’t that simple.
Is consumerization simple?
I feel we are in the same situation with IT consumerization. Things seem simple, so users expect IT to deliver quickly. But they don’t realize what needs to happen behind the scene to make things work. And then you get the aspects of security, compliance, privacy, even service availability. If Skype or Facebook is out for a little while; it’s not really an issue. But if the order entry system is out; that might be more annoying. Nobody cares that Google does not always gives you a similar answer when asking a question. But when you want to know the status of an order, you expect THE correct response.
So, the real question is, “How can we combine the ease of use, the intuitive user interaction, invented by IT consumerization with the rigor and service level needed by business environments?”
Cloud and Mobility
Cloud and mobility are fundamentally two sides of the same coin. Accessing a cloud requires a device. Increasingly that device is mobile; be it a laptop, a netbook, a tablet, a smartphone or even a smart TV. Most of these have become gadgets and it’s trendy to use a specific brand. Because this keeps changing over time, many CIOs get a headache supporting whatever the brand flavor of the month is. This trend is what we call BYOD (bring your own device).
A user interface on such device is a user interaction tool with the main functionality that is available in the cloud. Originally most mobile apps contained all the functionality in the app, requesting data from the back-end service. This is changing. We have re-invented client server. It has now become mobile-cloud. But the fundamental principles of client-server remain valid and should be implemented in any decent mobile service.
This implies a cloud service needs to be able to interact with multiple user interfaces as the variety of footprints require to present information in different formats. Again, this is an implication of IT Consumerization.
From a design perspective, developers of cloud services need to make several decisions. They will decide whether they leave the user interaction to a “mobile” application—written for each of the possible devices that can invoke the service— or whether they create one portal that supports multiple display sizes. It’s interesting to see that browsers such as Chrome already include a web store for plug-ins associated with specific services. So, the difference between the mobile device and the browser is disappearing.
I personally believe this is where things are going. You will have cloud services that expose well documented API’s. These allow the development of mobile applications and browser plug-ins to exploit the service with the best user experience. This is the next generation client-server, should we call it mobile-cloud?
And Big Data in all of this
Over the last 10 years we have gone from not enough information to make decisions to complete information overload. If you don’t know the word Zettabyte yet, you will soon. In 2011, we humans created 1,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information, in other words 1.8 zettabytes. By 2015 this is expected to grow to 7.8 zettabytes. And you expect to be able to analyze all of that?
To make it a little more complex, between 85 and 90 percent of all data generated is unstructured. In other words, it does not fit in a database and cannot been analyzed via our traditional business intelligence tools. No matter how sophisticated they may have become.
There is a big difference between analyzing the amount of customers spending more than 1M$ with your organization and finding the ones having a positive feeling about doing business with you. There is probably a correlation between both, and it would be good if we could check that. We may want to take particular care of a customer spending large amounts of money, but having a rather negative view of their experience with you.
Amazon— I’m now speaking about the on-line store— was one of the first to take advantage of our behaviors to make suggestions and increasing their business and our loyalty as a result.
But to do such analysis, you require large compute power, and that is why cloud computing offers interesting opportunities to mine structured and unstructured data.
Bringing it all together
I know a service I’d really like to have. Just before reaching my next customer appointment, I pull out my mobile phone and start my call advise app. Interacting with my calendar, this app knows who I’m meeting with and fires a BI search in our order database telling me what the company bought since the begining of this year and how this compares with previous years. Then, invoking the order management system, the orders that have placed but not yet delivered are shown with latest status updates.
The customer’s social media interactions are monitored and any comments (positive or negative) about my company and myself are highlighted with sentiment analysis. This is so I know the opinion of the person I will meet. The system also checks the feelings of other people in the same company to look for discrepancies in the way we are perceived so I may be able to discuss those. The app then goes on and checks in the CRM system for latest meeting notes, for activities done by colleagues and for potential issues etc. Here again the messages are colored according to feeling (for example, the positive ones green, the negative red, the neutral yellow).
And I could go on like this. The app knows that my contact loves football (soccer or US football) and it updates me with the latest sports information etc.
This is probably where we are going. That is what we expect if we take IT consumerization to its limits. It obviously leaves us with many questions regarding privacy etc. The combination of Cloud, Big Data and Mobility, further combined with the consumerization trend, fundamentally changes the way we look at information. We are out there for a brand new user experience. We will have to judge whether it is for the best or the worse. But in my mind, this is where we are going. Welcome to the 21st century, the century of the information revolution.