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Why the Consumerization of IT Products Hurts IT Workers

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Computing devices are getting smaller, faster and easier to use. It's great news for consumers, but what about those working in IT?

Complexity was – and to a large extent still is – an IT worker’s true BFF. Products that have many moving parts and are difficult to use create a need for people to repair and explain how to best use them. But now that line of thinking seems so, well, pre-iPad, and the explosion of easy-to-use mobile devices presents a grave threat to IT workers, especially those in support positions.

This “Apple-ization” of computing devices is generally a good thing. Really, who wants complicated products that are hard to use? The iPad and its iBrethren are merely part of a 70-year-old trend (law?): computing devices get smaller, cheaper, faster and more user-friendly. What this means for IT workers is that they need to be riding the crest of the usability wave – if they want to stay in the field, that is. (For related reading, check out Creating the iWorld: This History of Apple.)

The Technology Trend Line

Looking at the technology trend line, it seems unlikely that anyone will be using a computer with moving parts in 10 years’ time. Whatever you think of Apple, the iPhone voice recognition (VR) software, Siri, is a remarkable achievement. At the rate that VR technology is advancing, we might not even need keyboards in a few years. No more carpal tunnel!

Still need convincing? In late 2010, Gartner published its top tech predictions for 2011. The research giant’s main conclusions are eye-opening reading for tech support workers and those who manage them. Here are some of its predictions:

  • By 2015, tools and automation will eliminate 25 percent of labor hours associated with IT services. Let’s see, 25 percent fewer labor hours is likely to mean a lot fewer IT support people as well.
  • By 2014, 90 percent of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices. Fewer corporate devices plus more easy to use personal devices equals less need for IT support workers.
  • By 2013, 80 percent of businesses will support a workforce using tablets. That sounds like a recipe for fewer IT chefs in the kitchen.
  • As the jobless recovery continues, many large enterprises will find it less difficult to justify IT and business investments than increasing staffing levels.” Ouch. The net result: more money for the fortunate few(er) folks who have IT jobs.

American corporations have hundreds of billions of dollars in cash in their coffers. You could call it the ultimate rainy day fund. Why? The Great Recession made companies realize that they can do more with less. This just in: they like it. Despite the dubious benefits for customers, companies will continue to outsource the support jobs they do need for their too-easy-to-use devices.

A few months later an MBA candidate at Dartmouth’s Center for Digital Strategies at its Tuck School of Business came out with her take on the consumerization of IT. A few takeaways:

  • Enterprise users are demanding the level of usability they see in the consumer market from their corporate IT departments.
  • Digital natives” are intolerant of poor technology capabilities at work.
  • Telecommuting and access to information anywhere is blurring the line between personal and professional.
  • Employee retention will push companies to begin to embrace consumerization.

These trends are uniformly good for American businesses as they will increase productivity in the increasingly global clash for goods and services. That said, the inescapable conclusion is a forecast of more user-friendly technology that will need a leaner IT infrastructure to support it.

Tips for IT Support Personnel

What’s a humble IT support person to do? Although the solutions are problematic, here are a few arrows that should always be in your quiver:

  • Keep your resume up-to-date and think about where else in your organization you could fit in if things go south. (Note: the answer may be nowhere.) If the worst happens and you’re laid off, it may also help to have friends in lateral places at your company.
  • Don’t discuss religion and politics and don’t trash a colleague’s mobile OS choice. In other words, stay on your customers’ good sides. Be device agnostic. If you like Android and they like Apple let it go. You never know – that Android user may be a good reference someday.
  • It helps to be on good terms with your boss, and I mean really good terms, as people really don’t like laying off their friends. It also pays to be on the good side of your boss’s boss, as she may be the one to protect your neck from the corporate reaper. Disingenuous? Perhaps, but remember that it’s your life we’re talking about here. As Michael Corleone said to his brother, Sonny, in “The Godfather”, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
  • Learn to code! recently announced free online training to help you learn how to build websites, apps and games. This is one skill every IT professional should have.

The Bottom Line

Cool, easy-to-hang-with David (Apple) has finally beaten the stodgy Goliath (Microsoft). It’s a good thing for consumers, but if you’re in IT, it’s up to you to adapt.


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Robert Springer

Robert Springer is a freelance writer based in the small mountain town of Sisters, Oregon. He has written articles for national magazines, online publications, websites and newspapers. Before freelancing, he worked in the banking, television and information technology industries. In addition to writing, he enjoys being delightfully distracted by his school-age twins.