A lot of micro trends dri­ving the move to more focus on cus­tomer expe­ri­ence have evolved around the theme of the con­sumer­iza­tion of IT.  Accord­ing to Wikipedia, “Con­sumer­iza­tion is a sta­ble neol­o­gism that describes the trend for new infor­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy to emerge first in the con­sumer mar­ket and then spread into busi­ness orga­ni­za­tions, result­ing in the con­ver­gence of the IT and con­sumer elec­tron­ics indus­tries, and a shift in IT inno­va­tion from large busi­nesses to the home. For exam­ple, many peo­ple now find that their home based IT equip­ment and ser­vices are both more capa­ble and less expen­sive than what is pro­vided in their work­place. The term, con­sumer­iza­tion, was first pop­u­lar­ized by Dou­glas Neal and John Tay­lor of CSC’s Lead­ing Edge Forum in 2001 and is one of the key dri­vers of the Web 2.0 and Enter­prise 2.0 movements.”

This clas­sic view of Com­mer­cial­iza­tion may be ready for its update. (Source: Wikipedia)

This def­i­n­i­tion def­i­nitely leans on and dri­ves towards the con­sumer elec­tron­ics indus­try and is often reflec­tive of the advanced capa­bil­i­ties and bet­ter user expe­ri­ence that we get on home devices. In part this trend is respon­si­ble for the rebound of Apple, as busi­ness users, devel­op­ers and oth­ers started to choose Apple hard­ware based on the idea that it was eas­ier to use.

But there is a trend hid­den within this phe­nom­e­non that makes con­sumer­iza­tion too sim­plis­tic by def­i­n­i­tion. Do you remem­ber the Anna Karen­ina prin­ci­ple, “Happy fam­i­lies are all alike; every unhappy fam­ily is unhappy in it’s own way”?  Tol­stoy meant that in order for a mar­riage to suc­ceed many fac­tors had to be in place, but fail­ure in a sin­gle aspect could spell doom even when many of the ingre­di­ents were there. In his book Guns, Germs and Steel — The Fates of Human Soci­eties, Jared Dia­mond uses this to to make the point that we tend to seek easy, single-factor expla­na­tions of suc­cess. For most impor­tant things, suc­cess actu­ally requires avoid­ing many sep­a­rate causes of failure.

Ulti­mately the busi­ness mod­els of con­sumer elec­tron­ics and ser­vices do not lend them­selves directly to sup­port­ing enter­prise busi­ness mod­els. In a recent dis­cus­sion with an (unnamed) enter­prise secu­rity firm from Canada we were talk­ing about the issues with secur­ing iPad devices in a way that enter­prise find suit­able for stor­ing data. What I found most inter­est­ing was that this same con­sumer­iza­tion trend was dri­ving adop­tion for cloud-based appli­ca­tions that would absolutely remain secure even if a device was stolen, as long as the device could merely be wiped and not accessed. Because busi­ness buy­ers are essen­tially a niche mar­ket for many con­sumer man­u­fac­tur­ers there is often only a min­i­mal bar set with essen­tial ser­vices and often these sim­ply extend capa­bil­i­ties that are already needed for con­sumers.  Yes, oth­ers will move in the mar­ket to make things more enterprise-ready but this is a bolt-on strat­egy that mys­ti­fies account­abil­ity and often intro­duces addi­tional points of failure.

In par­al­lel to this increased aware­ness and con­cern around con­sumer elec­tron­ics in the enter­prise there are a plethora of ser­vice types that are essen­tially enter­prise ver­sions of broadly adopted con­sumer appli­ca­tions. Micro-blogging plat­forms in the enter­prise pro­vide all the famil­iar­ity and con­nec­tion ben­e­fits that their con­sumer coun­ter­parts offer but pre­vent access to the purely con­sumer aspects such as social games or ‘inter­act­ing’ with celebrities.

Con­sumer­iza­tion is by def­i­n­i­tion a process. Pri­vate infra­struc­ture is built out to first sup­port early adopters inclu­sive of dis­tri­b­u­tion, sup­port, related ser­vices and acces­sories. In much the same way, busi­nesses also build out pri­vate infra­struc­ture that is to be owned and used by the busi­ness, not indi­vid­u­als. When the ser­vice types over­lap or col­lide we have no choice but to com­pare and con­trast from both a busi­ness and per­sonal per­spec­tive and this ulti­mately fos­ters a unique form of com­pet­i­tive ten­sion. What is unique is that as end users we com­pare and ulti­mately voice frus­tra­tion when things are per­ceived to be more cum­ber­some or dif­fi­cult to use more than ever. The short­est route to a solu­tion for IT is then to either define a happy medium or sim­ply embrace the con­sumer­ized approach and work to make it enterprise-ready. Var­i­ous peo­ple have observed already that users don’t really make mis­takes any more — instead sys­tems and appli­ca­tions were not built to sup­port the needs or pat­terns that would even­tu­ally emerge, and that’s why they fail.

For exam­ple, instant mes­sag­ing as a plat­form faces com­pet­i­tive pres­sure as peo­ple switch to more social appli­ca­tions that com­bine per­sonal and shared mes­sag­ing ser­vices. Many of the appli­ca­tions we use to col­lab­o­rate or work together sup­port instant mes­sag­ing as well so more more fre­quently we see the pat­terns move into con­text of other tasks.  This means that we have less reliance on pure instant mes­sag­ing plat­forms.  In fact, I don’t use one at all any more but I absolutely chat in the con­text of meet­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion, through other social plat­forms and with cus­tomer ser­vice agents on cor­po­rate websites.

Photo: Adobe’s new Vibe micro-blogging plat­form, for inter­nal use only from the Adobe@Adobe team

Every­thing About Every­one Everywhere

Right now many high-tech mar­keters and avid social media users both inside and out­side the fire­wall are faced with a net new chal­lenge. For exam­ple, we have invested heav­ily in Twit­ter and in some cases had some wins on Face­book, LinkedIn, Tum­blr, a cor­po­rate blog and other plat­forms to help us work bet­ter and smarter across these are­nas. In the last few short weeks I have already ‘cir­cled’ more than 100 Adobe employ­ees mak­ing their move to Google+. Sim­i­lar to many other orga­ni­za­tions we imme­di­ately begin to think how we could use this plat­form for our brand, events and prod­ucts — with the obvi­ous choice being to do some­thing sim­i­lar to what we have done on Face­book with per­haps a lit­tle more ‘blog’ thrown in.

It was a wel­come relief to get the invite to sign up for the Google+ for Busi­ness alpha, which will launch later this year for a cou­ple rea­sons. First, sim­ply repeat­ing what we already do some­where else did not seem too excit­ing but more impor­tantly, know­ing that Google was going to focus on build­ing a set of ser­vices that were unique and meant for busi­nesses means that we can take advan­tage of that effort and think­ing and not try to fit a square peg in a cir­cle. One could argue that the con­sumer­iza­tion essen­tially needs to be more com­plete in order for busi­nesses to suc­ceed on the plat­form any­way. And Google+ really is for peo­ple, not avatars or brands or busi­nesses or prod­ucts, but for peo­ple to share, con­verse and com­mu­ni­cate in new ways. You can do this on behalf of your busi­ness obvi­ously and many are already, but we are doing this as our­selves, as indi­vid­u­als.  Will we always be work­ing to con­sumer­ize IT?

It was this over­all line of think­ing that got me on to the last ques­tion there. We had effec­tively con­sumer­ized IT, but were we essen­tially bound to have to do this over and over again? To take prod­ucts and ser­vices that were meant for con­sumers and adapt our infra­struc­tures, poli­cies, habits and goals such that we could tol­er­ate its idio­syn­crasies and still be effec­tive as employ­ees and teams and grow our busi­nesses accord­ingly. Or…

Are we mov­ing into an era where we can expect oth­ers to do the work needed to com­mer­cial­ize and indus­tri­al­ize con­sumer pat­terns and prac­tices? Are we bet­ter to take the best prac­tices, method­olo­gies, tech­nolo­gies and plat­forms and make them enterprise-ready such that we don’t face the com­pro­mises and down­sides that come with all that awesome-ness, ease-of-use and ready to adopt par­a­digms? Clearly the platform-as-a-service ide­ol­ogy has major dif­fer­ences when it comes to con­sumer and busi­ness best prac­tices. For example:

  • The notion of my per­sonal groups of friends and fam­ily does not really trans­late to teams and orga­ni­za­tions. The lat­ter are much more implicit and ulti­mately need be auto­mated. I wouldn’t expect Face­book to know when my cousin has a baby, but I would expect an enter­prise plat­form to know when a cus­tomer sub­scrip­tion expires or a team mem­ber changes roles.
  • My per­sonal data is mine and while I seek to pro­tect it in one way when I am shar­ing things in a per­sonal net­work I have a whole dif­fer­ent level of expec­ta­tions about how my employer will ulti­mately pro­tect and keep my data safe.

We essen­tially need to have two iden­ti­ties but we are learn­ing to blend them through brute force. PHOTO — Peretz Partensky

I don’t know any­one who thinks that the blend­ing of work and fam­ily or per­sonal life is per­fect on social net­works and to some extent this liv­ing exam­ple of our work/life bal­ance has cre­ated these save ver­sions of our­selves. We can’t ulti­mately share every­thing about our per­sonal lives with our co-workers nor can we share things with fam­ily and friends that needs to be kept inter­nal to a com­pany. So what we do is tame both ends of that spec­trum and ulti­mately, from what I see, this cre­ates an incom­plete iden­tity. But, cur­rently its the best we have so we go with it and we select those co-workers who we feel more com­fort­able around to share some of the more per­sonal things we are doing. But we rarely do this with our cus­tomers or part­ners for obvi­ous rea­sons and here is where it breaks down. The fun­da­men­tal need to engage with our cus­tomers and part­ners in order to real­ize the full value of social is hand­i­capped before we even get out the door by a nec­es­sary and log­i­cal gate we put in place.

Social as an ingre­di­ent tech­nol­ogy has already made con­sid­er­able inroads in the enter­prise and is often the key to suc­cess for steer­ing rel­e­vant con­ver­sa­tions back into our domain. Here at Adobe we have sup­ported this move­ment with tech­nolo­gies such as Adobe Con­nect and Adobe Live­Cy­cle Col­lab­o­ra­tion Ser­vice, but we see the need to go way beyond this in terms of pro­vid­ing a whole solu­tion (and we are).

To me, the point of these inter­sec­tions and chal­lenges seems to be that we have arrived at a tip­ping point, a sort of cross­roads in what is appro­pri­ate and safe and doable and we are now faced with a new chal­lenge. We have con­sumer­ized IT but we have not (often enough) com­mer­cial­ized or indus­tri­al­ized the pat­terns that sup­port this to the extent that they need to be in order to real­ize their full poten­tial. Imag­ine that you had invested mil­lions of dol­lars in a phys­i­cal mail and logis­tics sys­tem to sup­port ship­ments and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a new plat­form came along to sup­port elec­tronic mail and sim­ply based on user pref­er­ence you sud­denly had to invest in dual infra­struc­ture and sup­port new secu­rity topol­ogy in order to…um, never mind.

The plat­forms we have are already widely adopted for social brand engage­ment and cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and even employee com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the con­ver­sa­tion has started. I think we have yet to see the full com­mer­cial­iza­tion of con­sumer plat­forms and I think there is a lot of untapped oppor­tu­nity still locked up in our inabil­ity to effec­tively con­nect these two worlds. I expect that the plat­forms will con­tinue to evolve to meet this and that the focus on great user expe­ri­ences based on exist­ing pat­terns, cloud-ready ser­vices, easy inte­gra­tion points and pas­sion for col­lab­o­ra­tion will com­bine with the need for secu­rity, pri­vacy, ver­sion­ing, multi-channel deliv­ery and more to build a path for con­sumer tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices to ulti­mately plateau in the enterprise.

More than ever with the mul­ti­ple points of con­nec­tion between all of us at work, at con­fer­ences, on social media and through shared infor­ma­tion con­sump­tion, we have learned to do this col­lab­o­ra­tively as an ecosys­tem.  We need to con­tinue shar­ing ideas, devel­op­ing stan­dards and hard­en­ing the pat­terns that are going to suc­ceed and not be sub­ject so eas­ily to the next whim of user pref­er­ence being a force for whole­sale change.  Adapt to adopt — or learn from the pat­terns we see peo­ple migrat­ing towards and build them into our lives and work in a way that ulti­mately suits all aspects of our pro­posed life­long mar­riage to technology.

But then, try­ing to pre­dict the future (espe­cially of a mar­riage) is a dis­cour­ag­ing and haz­ardous occu­pa­tion…

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One Response to Anna Karenina and the marriage of Consumerization to Enterprise

  1. Liam says:

    Not much time, but I will com­ment on the video: truly awesome.

    I would say say that Clarke under­es­ti­mates the value, bet­ter yet, the inher­ent desire, between indi­vid­u­als to want to be near each other. Which is why cities (one of mankind’s great­est inven­tions, and gen­er­ally a crown­ing jewel of every civ­i­liza­tion) will always exist in one form or another.

    Also, Adobe Vibe = totally cool. And I agree we have yet to see the full com­mer­cial­iza­tion of con­sumer plat­forms, fully con­nect­ing those two worlds will come from imag­i­na­tion, watch­ing trends, and gen­uinely invest­ing cor­po­rate resources into the project.

    More thoughts to come as I digest this…


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