Consumerize This: Supporting consumer devices and cloud
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Consumerization today is mostly about mobile devices and the cloud, but in the future it could include everything from the clothes people wear to the washers and dryers that clean them.
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At Solstice Mobile, a Chicago-based consulting and development firm, Greg Cullen, vice president of technology, strategy and implementation, and his team are actively looking at Google Glass technology, other aspects of contextual computing and the "Internet of Things" -- and their potential roles in the business world. This approach to consumerization makes work fun, Cullen said.
Cullen talked about his experiences with consumerization, emerging technology and getting in front of the trends before they start making big waves.
How would you describe your approach to consumerization?
Greg Cullen: We fully embrace it and constantly innovate. There are a couple of profound influences that we see starting to have an impact on future demand that we've been experimenting with.
One of them is contextual computing. Today's applications are not much different [from] the old mainframe applications. When a person needs to get information or needs to do something, he needs to know what application to go to. Then he'll go in and have to know what menu item to select, how to actually get there to find that information, how to fill out a form to be able to do stuff.
Contextual computing -- especially with mobile, which knows where you are, what you're doing, what you like, pretty much everything about you -- is about understanding consumers and providing the information or the ability to do something when they need it. We're doing some development with Google Glass, which is a big contextual play.
What's the process for getting in front of the trends?
Cullen: You have to embrace it and inject them into the culture. An example of how we're doing this is the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is about taking ordinary objects and making them smarter. We use our offices as the test bed for these technologies and new ideas.
We float ideas out there, and we have brainstorm sessions where we'll actually go out and say [to our employees], 'What's next? What are you seeing? What do you like?' If you have a whole bunch of people and you're constantly pitching ideas and talking about it from the ground up within your organization, things are going to resonate just as they would in the consumer space.
The Internet of Things is taking it a step further. We built some circuit boards that look at a light, look at the motion detectors [in conference rooms] and look at the calendar, then put that information together and send that information to mobile phones. I'm sure people run into this too, where a conference room looks booked. But if no one's in the conference room and it's not booked, it'll show as a different color so people can know that that conference room is available.
Do you support employees using personal mobile devices for work? If so, what do you mean by support?
Cullen: We definitely support all the different devices -- iOS, Android, Windows -- and we actually encourage people to try out different devices so they can understand what the benefits are and what are the downfalls. Sometimes, if you get locked into a device, you really don't understand the different things that are out there to take advantage of.
From a support aspect, it goes hand in hand with security. We're really trying to support the device and ensure that the security is there for the personal information, as well as the work information.
Does your company have a bring your own device/mobile device policy?
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Cullen: We do. We have different policies that we enforce, like password information. We actually tried out quite a few different providers for [mobile device management] -- MobileIron, AirWatch, Good [Technology] -- and they all offer similar levels of security. The policies we push out to allow for remote wipe, to ensure that passwords are being set on the devices -- these MDMs are really critical to being able to do that in an organized and simple way.
Do you let employees use consumer-focused services such as Dropbox?
Cullen: We have. It's heavily driven by what clients our employees are working with. Financial institutions have much greater [restrictions], so a lot of times we'll have policies where employees cannot use Dropbox, and instead we'll use the client's solution. Some of our clients have fewer restrictions and we use things like Dropbox.
Is consumerization overall a positive or negative? And what's the hardest part for your organization to deal with?
Cullen: Consumerization is a wonderful thing. If you're a company or an individual that wants to see innovation … the consumer space is really what's driving that. You have people who are coming [into businesses] as consumers and they're using these different products, and they're saying, "Why are my personal devices and tools more convenient and more efficient than the tools I have at work?" IT groups are really having to adopt [consumerization] because they don't have a choice and because they don't have an answer.
If you're an IT pro who wants to share your experiences with consumerization in a future Q&A, email Margaret Jones, assistant site editor.