Consumerization of IT: Is It More than Just Bring-Your-Own (Mobile) Device?

By Robert Lee Harris


Published January 19, 2012


No Jitter / SCTC Perspectives




Lots of things are changing about the consumer technology environment; are you keeping up with all of them?


It turns out that at CES, Consumerization of IT primarily means "BYOD" (Bring Your own Device). The panel discussion appropriately named "The Consumerization of IT: How Consumer Innovation Is Influencing Business" featured participants from software and virtualization service providers (SAP, QuickOffice and Citrix) as well as one carrier (Verizon), but the discussion was nothing new for anyone following the BYOD trend. The "business value" side of the discussion focused primarily on cost savings for device purchases and support. Also mentioned was the value of letting people use the device of their choice instead of an "old clunky company laptop they hate" (if the company provides the slick new tablet, would they still hate it?), and discussion segued into the standard "challenges" around securing company data and selecting mobile device management tools. 


In contrast, last March at the Enterprise Connect conference, which focuses on business technology, attendees were pondering what consumer technology adoption would bring to the enterprise--not just from personal devices, but from networked homes, social media and interactive video systems. At CES 2012, the subject matter was strictly limited to smartphones and tablet computers. When the innovation drivers identified in the consumer electronics industry are limited to personal devices, could it mean we are at the conclusion of this phase of influence?


In the session, Shadman Zafar, Senior VP of Rapid Product Development for Verizon, suggested that large enterprises should develop an IT Research and Development team to evaluate end-user technology trends and plan around them. From what I have seen, most large businesses would defer this responsibility to an Enterprise Architecture group, but enterprise architects generally look at what analysts say and other businesses are doing. They don't look at what devices employees pull out of their jackets and purses on their lunch hour, and they don't look over their shoulder at what apps they are using and how these could be emulated in the office. (A side note: Zafar [was] one of the keynote speakers at Enterprise Connect 2012 in March.)


Besides this session, it was more of the same. Any exhibit that used the term "Consumerization of IT" focused on smartphones and tablets. People want to use their smartphones and tablets for work...yeah we get that. All these new devices on the show floor are faster or thinner, or have higher resolution; better get ready for even more demand for BYOD! Raise your hand...ook how many of you business folks are already carrying around an iPad...we already know that too! 


Maybe we are now in a reactive phase in adopting employee-owned devices. Not every enterprise has completed the transition, but for the most part, IT kind of knows what it is going to look like when it is completed.


Smart TVs and Interactive Video
Last month, InStat Research reported that purchase of streaming media devices (e.g. Roku, Apple TV or an array of media capable video games and Blu-ray players) doubled in 2011, and that 17 million US households now own Internet connected televisions. Television manufacturers and programmers are ready to accommodate this connectivity in ways beyond simply using the television as a large web browser or video player. One of the CES Innovations Honorees was Biscotti, a device that provides a "TV Phone" connection over any television set with connectivity to tablets and smartphones. Samsung announced their vision for providing connectivity across their entire catalog of TVs, mobile phones, tablets, notebooks, cameras and even home appliances. The camera on the Samsung ES9000 OLED (Organic LED) TV enables voice control and facial recognition. Another exhibitor, PrimeSense, demonstrated a 3D Awareness Sensor, which can be mounted on top of television sets, enabling applications that respond to your every movement or command. Nearly every Internet-connected television includes Skype on the menu of pre-loaded content. 


Is there a business impact? The potential exists for using home televisions as videoconferencing or telework devices, but what is available in the technology is lacking in the vision and execution. For example, Biscotti interfaces with Gmail but has no interface with business platforms such as GoToMeeting, Webex or AT&T Connect. The Nokia Lumia with Windows Phone debuted with only a future promise of a Skype client, despite Microsoft's ownership of Skype and close relationship with Nokia. Even with the potential for integration with Lync, enterprise integration of Skype is likely to be incidental rather than a core strategy by Microsoft.


TV manufacturers seem cautious about home video, so this would explain why business-to-consumer integration is not on their radar. Perhaps CES is just the wrong venue to showcase it. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the short life of Cisco's umi home telepresence experience. Do end users not really want a TV Phone? In the session, "Making Smart TVs Smarter," Russ Schafer, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Yahoo! emphasized Yahoo's learning experience that you cannot simply reformat PC or tablet content and expect it to be used on a television. He pointed out that TV is a community device, while tablets, phones and even laptops are more personal. Outside of business, how many times do you get a gang of people around a speakerphone to talk to all the cousins simultaneously on a voice connection? While the TV Phone ads show the family gathered on the living room couch in front of TV to talk to grandma (who has configured her compatible video unit and instructed her Internet Service Provider to prioritize the correct IP packets for both incoming and outgoing traffic), in reality, most personal telecommunications is a one-to-one interaction. If you want to videoconference you can already do so with a tablet, laptop or smartphone, and if you have a work-related video call, how much better to position your laptop with a prestigious brick wall or bookshelf in the background instead of folks at the office seeing the kids fighting over a cereal box at the breakfast bar?


From the manufacturer's perspective, the real focus of smart TVs is intuitive search, social network integration and customized ad delivery. In the aforementioned session on Smart TV, Yahoo's Russ Schafer cited a Nielsen study well known in the industry, showing that 70% of tablet owners and 68% of smartphone owners watch television while simultaneously using a personal device to find information or discussions related to the TV programming. Television manufacturers and streaming content developers see a lot of value in integrating the experience together. Russ Schafer referred to the concept of "paired devices" with the ability to push content back and forth. Applications such as Showtime Social now allow viewers to share information about shows with Facebook and Twitter contacts. In turn, these apps deliver customized video and photos about the program to the viewer/device user. 


Peer-to-peer communications and social media may be the draw for consumers to use Smart TVs, but the endgame for the streaming and broadcasting industry is precisely-targeted advertising. During the Making Smart TV Smarter session, Eric Anderson, VP Content and Product Solutions for Samsung stated, "I'd expect ACR [Automatic Content Recognition] to be one of the top themes of CES by next year.... Intelligent advertising and merchandising capabilities that come along with it has TV broadcasters really leaning forward to make the experience interactive."


With ACR-enabled televisions, the same type of targeted content that is pushed through browser based media will be pushed to the large screen. Authenticated streaming content on a large screen makes every home a "Nielsen Family". This could either be creepy, or could potentially make the viewer experience more satisfying. If you're in the market for a car, you won't mind seeing lots of car advertisements rather than ads for the TV that you already own. Since the television can track what ads you have already seen, you might be presented more detailed content that teaches you about the product while trying to persuade you to buy it. With device interconnectivity, advertising does not have to be a one-way interaction. What if you could respond to a commercial instantly on your television by "tagging" an advertisement, or what if "operators are standing by", not waiting for your call, but ready to call you directly on your ACR-enabled television? 


Profit potential will keep a lot of the Connected TV capabilities from coming to fruition. There is no barrier to using a Smart TV as a customer service call queuing or callback device--for example, receiving a callback from your insurance company that pauses programming when an agent is available. However, these broader capabilities are not likely to come embedded into a Smart TV without a business model for monetizing the capabilities. Eric Anderson from Samsung said, "The TV industry is pretty well established with tons of money in it and tons of stakeholders that have a lot to gain and lose through advertising and programming." Content providers are already contending to be one of the preprogrammed menu icons on connected televisions. Television will continue to be driven by advertising revenue. Maybe some aspects of television are as black and white as they were 60 years ago and just will not change.


The Connected Home--Will it Connect to the Workplace?
A session titled "Navigating the Connected Home" defined a connected home as having a hub device that seamlessly connects tablets, smartphones, Internet TVs, iPods and more. Surprisingly, none of the participants focused specifically on communication devices even though the panel included representatives from Qualcomm Atheros , LG, Netgear and Verizon. The focus was on smart grid technologies for power management and controlling locks and lights remotely. 


There were however, some interesting points presented by the panel. Ann Shaub, Director of Verizon Telecom's Connected Home and CPE, cited a statistic that by 2013, the average consumer would have 7 connected devices, and disclosed that her own household (with four kids) had over 50. Home monitoring was also addressed; the ability to see what's going on at home from a remote location: if your oven is on and what the babysitter is doing, for example. In this case, consumerization of IT may inhibit home monitoring. Enterprise IT shops may allow any device to connect to the network, but they will not allow just any content. Many of the clients I have worked with have strict policies against external streaming content, so consumers need their own device and their own access if they want to watch the NannyCam all day from their workstation.


On the consumer side, there are some new challenges to the connected home. Todd Antes, Senior VP of Product Management for Qualcomm Atheros, pointed out that with the ability to control lights and locks remotely, consumers needed to be ready to bring enterprise class security into the home network. James Fishler, Senior VP of Marketing for LG Electronics, contemplated whether consumers really want to manage their own bandwidth, even with all the potential benefits. For several years, consumers have taught the enterprise the new tricks. In return, more complicated home networks may have to borrow some skills from business IT. It will be interesting to see how technically proficient end users are willing to become to secure their home and control appliances. 


The Future is...Same As Last Year, but Better
What really causes technology adoption? Initially, it's features that enable end users to do something they want to do that they could not before. However, mass adoption is equally driven by affordability, convenience, reliability and familiarity. I have read and heard a significant amount of CES-bashing this year, but there were plenty of examples of devices we're familiar with becoming more durable, more commoditized, and even more waterproof. Maybe this year, the back end stability of these devices will catch up with the innovation in lieu of some groundbreaking new technology.


Cloud services were already available last year, but have become more prevalent in the consumer market. As enterprises move to virtualized computing platforms, consumer readiness is important. In other words, as consumers play music, share files and file taxes online, as employees they will get used to Internet quality instead of desktop quality, much like they got used to mobile phone quality over toll quality. 


Cloud computing will make it very easy for a company to provide affordable client terminals to employees, which is why I'm still a skeptic of BYOD providing long-term value to enterprise IT. At least at CES 2012, Consumerization of IT meant BYOD, but all of the touted innovation and productivity value could be obtained on enterprise devices if every employee were given a tablet or iPad. In the short run, enterprises may save some money for a few years by the employees purchasing their own mobile devices because current BYOD strategies usually just support email and calendar access. In the long run, richer enterprise apps, fixed mobile convergence, more durable and affordable phones and virtualization will make IT-controlled mobile devices cheaper to support than a mix of employee provided devices. 


There is one constant that large enterprises can plan around; whether you embrace employee liable or corporate liable smart devices in this new computing environment, it will be virtually the same infrastructure that is required to support it.



"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.