The Consumerization of IT Is Not a Victimless Crime

To date, the consumerization of IT has been widely considered a work-centric movement, a way in which personal technologies have intruded into the workplace. And although that's true enough, I think this trend has equally dramatic ramifications and repercussions for the end users who have unwittingly forced their employers to accept these changes.

What have we done?

There are many, many examples of how the consumerization of IT is coming back to bite us in the rear. The classic example, of course, is the surge in mobile computing, and although we tend to think about mobility these days in terms of smartphones and tablet devices, it really began several years ago with laptop computers.

(In fact, laptop computing was so freeing and so revolutionary that when I started writing this column over a decade ago I would review a different portable computer once each month.)

Today, I'm starting to think that laptops have ruined everything. Consider: When you sit down in front of a desktop PC at your employer's facility, you're implicitly agreeing to spend a certain portion of the day tethered to that machine, working. Yes, you spend some time milling around the office, attending meetings, and so on. But for many IT and knowledge workers, the primary contribution occurs when you're using the PC.

By handing out laptops to workers, employers are freeing you to work anytime, anywhere, especially at home. And as work-addicted as we are, many of us can easily justify this behavior. It gives us a competitive advantage, perhaps. Or our jobs aren't time-centric. Or you feel better getting caught up on email during that sports game or silly sitcom.

Hey, whatever makes you feel better, and certainly I've used each of these excuses. But the reality is, you've just changed the equation. You've agreed to be more engaged in work-related activities more frequently, and often when work has no claim to you at all.

Smartphones and tablets are even more diabolical. These tiny devices work literally anywhere, thanks to cellular data connections, allowing us to catch up on email, edit documents and presentations, and perform other work-related tasks while commuting (hopefully not while driving) or traveling, and even in private places like bed or the bathroom. (Admit it. You've done both.)

Saying “no” to being constantly available is an art, perhaps, but it's something we all need to work on. And doing so is getting harder and harder thanks to these progressively more connected devices.

And it's not just the hardware, of course.

Cloud computing solutions bring our work data to us wherever we are, and regardless of the device type. It's not like the old days when that spreadsheet was locked in Microsoft Excel on a particular PC. Or when you had to head back to the office to find something that was archived in email.

Meanwhile, social networks such as Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others are forming a publicly available map of our lives, especially for those who aren't particularly careful about regularly reviewing their privacy settings. I've written a lot about what I think of as the emerging workforce, the kids in school or college whose freewheeling use of technology is setting up their expectations for work. To say that these kids have amassed a collection of embarrassing and easily accessible photos, posts, tweets, and other nonsense is an understatement. And if you think a potential employer isn't going to consider that as part of a wider understanding of who you really are, well, good luck with that.

But what about you? Sure, you're a mature, computer-literate, hopefully able-bodied and employed adult. But if you've been using Facebook, Twitter, or any of these other services, you might want to take the time to ensure that the digital map of your life that's being created is as private as you think it is. And with Facebook's new Timeline feature, in particular, about to go live whether you want it or not, there's no time like the present to start deleting all those funny-at-the-time photos and posts.

I think back to a briefing I had with the Windows Server team years ago, before the term "consumerization of IT" was invented, or at least mainstream. They were telling me about a new set of hardware-related policies that were being added to the system in response to news that admins were super-gluing USB ports on work computers to prevent employees from plugging in iPods and other portable devices. Today, things are a bit more sophisticated. But now it's your turn to work proactively to make sure that technology -- and the consumerization of IT -- doesn't get the better of you.

TAGS: Windows 8
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