The Consumerization of IT.  Bring Your Own Device. Personal Cloud Storage.  These buzzwords have sent IT departments the world over into a tizzy.  In fact, 37% of all IT related articles written in the last 2 years have been about one of these three concepts.  (I totally made that stat up.) We, as IT people, are obsessed with the consequences of allowing consumer devices and personal software behind the corporate firewall and well we should be.  The idea raises many questions:

  •  How can we support all of these various devices? 
  •  How will we keep our networks secure? 
  •  If they’re using their own software and hardware, do they really need us at all? 

These questions, and their many variations, are important and must be answered.  However, in the midst of our flesh rending and teeth gnashing, I think we have completely missed the biggest problem introduced by Consumer Technology in the Enterprise, it has given rise to the RETEs.

Recently Empowered Technology Enthusiasts are proto-geeks who have come to believe that they have a savant-like way with technology, because in recent years the technology they used to struggle so hard to use, now just comes to them naturally.  Most RETEs are harmless, sweet even.  Your mother became a RETE the first time she texted you from her new iPhone.  But there is a certain brand of RETE who is very dangerous, specifically for IT Departments dealing with Consumer Technology issues, the RETE in charge.
 
This person used to fight with their Blackberry daily.  They would get stuck in the menu tree and call IT to help them find their way out.  They bought a netbook because it was tiny and shiny and cool-looking, but they threw it out a window because it was too slow and would drop the wireless network every 5 minutes.  Then they discovered the iPhone, the iPad, and the App store.  The heavens opened and Steve Jobs in the guise of Prometheus bent toward them with the flame of all technical knowledge, passing it slowly in front of their face.  The scales of ignorance fell from their eyes and suddenly everything made sense.  Technology was easy!  Apps could do everything!  And that’s the moment when the question that strikes fear in the heart of every IT Guy first occurs to the RETE.  “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”

It’s a perfectly valid question, but there are many obstacles to making technology at work as easy to use as commercially available consumer technology.  We have long term contracts and agreements with enterprise software makers.  We have security and support issues that consumer app makers don’t even consider, and we have industry and company specific requirements that they aren’t interested in addressing.  The RETE in charge doesn’t care, “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”
Consumer software makers have spent the last few years building apps that aren’t just solving a particular problem for the user, but also doing it in a way that is intuitive and simple, that conforms to the user’s workflow instead of requiring the user to conform to the software.  The software learns the user instead of the other way around.  Intelligence is built into the back end of these apps so that users don’t even see it, let alone have to use their own.  “So… why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”
Many enterprise software makers are just now hiring their first User Experience Engineer. They’re half a decade or more behind the consumer software developers.  The big guys, the one’s we’ve all been paying exorbitant licensing fees for the last 20 years, they’re going to struggle and many of them will fail in the coming years.  They’ll be replaced by little guys who have been building consumer apps and have been focused on the user experience all along.  These little guys will eventually nail the security and support issues too, and their focus on user experience and their lower overhead costs (read: lower licensing fees), will lead to enterprise level, intuitive, user-centric software in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, the question is still hanging in the air, waiting for a simple answer. “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?” 
If you come up with a good answer, drop me a line.  
Please…

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Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal and CEO at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy helping law firms with innovation strategy, project planning and implementation, prototyping, and technology evaluation.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for nearly 2…

Ryan is Principal and CEO at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy helping law firms with innovation strategy, project planning and implementation, prototyping, and technology evaluation.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for nearly 2 decades. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, Ryan was a Legal Tech Strategist, a BigLaw Innovation Architect, a Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Help Desk answerer, a Presentation Technologist, a High Fashion Merchandiser, and a Theater Composer.