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Powershift! The darker side of consumer IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 15, 2010  |  2 Comments

The consumerization of IT is something that Gartner had been writing about for some time. The idea that individuals will have access to more powerful technology in their personal rather than professional lives is certainly true.

The focus of consumerization has been largely on its impact on the traditional IT organization and how they support multiple devices based on the generic principle that consumerization is either a good thing or an irresistible force.

However what has received less thought is the impact that consumerized IT has on person to person interactions in the workforce. This idea floated into my head as I was reading Dan Airley’s new book The Upside of Irrationality which talks about how people value things and the power of hedonic adaptation.

Hedonic adaptation is the process of getting used to things. The book talks about the observation that the frequency of our experience influence the degree of discomfort or pleasure we experience. In general tough situations and tasks are better handled in one effort -pushing our way though to the end. Breaking up bad situation into smaller steps only makes it feel worse. The exact opposite is true for good experiences.

While people will adjust over time, the duration and impact of negative experience is extended when that experience is repeated in small increments rather than happening all at once. Death by a thousand paper cuts is a term that captures this sentiment.

I think that this phenomenon has a particular effect with consumer IT as employees are constantly reminded, often on a daily basis of the difference between the have’s and the have not’s as the diversity of consumer selected technologies creates tech envy and in extreme cases feelings of tech discrimination. The iPad is the current lightning rod for this.

Tech envy arises as people have access to different technologies and therefore can compare them. The differences create some level of resentment. I have seen this in terms of two people using corporate standard technologies but at different stages in the tech refresh cycle. “Oh you have the new computer… you were upgraded before me.”. The situation is worse when you are using two different technologies ( e.g. Mac vs PC)

Now introduce consumer based IT where people buy their own technology and plug it into work. This creates the potential for additional resentment when you consider that we all are at different points and in different situations in our lives. Some have the personal resources to buy the “latest and greatest” leaving others do not and therefore they must use the “old and slow” corporate solutions. It is the iPad versus the note pad.

People are naturally frustrated when they see these differences. That frustration often comes out in the form of people criticizing the new technology, it has no battery life, it does not support this, when company x comes out with their version it will be much better, etc. As they are saying this they may be either playing with the new tech toy or starring at and sending a not so subliminal message.

This is particularly the case where people would like to buy / use the latest technology but other needs take precedence. For example you are putting children through college, caring for a sick family member, or have a tight financial situation, etc.

You can provide a standard subsidy, but that does not solve the issue that some people have and will devote more resources to their work technology either because they have the income or because they view their personal technology as an important part of their self image.

A particular concern are people who would rather take a subsidy and use it to improve another aspect of the life than buying work tools. Having mangers see the subsidy as a form of compensation would only make a tough situation tougher.

People are reminded of the resulting gaps between technology rich and poor every day, creating tension and putting sand in relationships. The gaps are one of the thousand paper cuts. That is the dark side and things will get darker as the pace and performance of consumer oriented technologies continues to quicken.

Consumerization is a real phenomena and one that is shaping more that IT service requirements and budgets. It also is introduces other factors into personal relationships by differentiating people based on the technology they use.

What do you think? Does having people bring their own technology to work solving one problem while creating tension in other areas? If so how are you dealing with it?

Category: personal-observation  technology  

Tags: ipad  it-leadership  it-management  management  personal-observation  powershift  technology  technology-leadership  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Powershift! The darker side of consumer IT

  1. Two aspects come to my mind. First of all, think of kids who bring their own toys to the kindergarten, or to primary school. The resulting tension is sometimes very obvious. I have heard of some schools that have a policy of banning all private toys. Let’s face it: digital gizmos are toys for grown-ups. That is why think it makes sense to limit the usage of electronic devices by the employees to those offered by their employers.
    Besides, private devices are a security nightmare of virtually every system administrator. It makes little sense to use personal gadgets without connecting them to the company’s LAN. However, most companies I know over here in Germany forbid the usage of any private devices in connection with any connected device within the organization, and there is no sign of change in this regard anytime soon.

  2. […] are not only in place; they are riding through our enterprises, customers, markets and world.  The consumerization, industrialization, and transformation created by lightweight technologies and what Gartner calls […]

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