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Focus on user needs to achieve consumerization success

IT can manage consumerization by partnering with end users to give them what they need.

SAN FRANCISCO -- IT departments trying to meet the needs of employees shouldn't look for a technology solution. Instead, they need to adopt a user-first mentality.

Instead of thinking about consumerization-based problems from a technology standpoint, organizations must re-imagine the way things are done, said Gary Hamel, a business consultant, during his keynote at the Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise (CITE) conference here this week. "The problem of consumerization is an organizational one," he said. "Companies need to be adaptable, and they need to get smarter about the control-versus-freedom dilemma."

Organizational changes that put the end user first was a topic of many of the sessions led by IT pros who deal with the impact of consumer technologies in the enterprise.

For many, it was a lesson learned the hard way.

Starz Entertainment, a premium cable channel based in Denver, focused too heavily on the logical, engineering side of deploying smartphones and tablets, and didn'tthink too much about the employees actually using the new devices.

"Once we gave someone an iPad and assumed they knew how to use it, and two hours later we got a call to the help desk asking us how to turn it on," said Judy Batenburg, Starz's vice president of IT infrastructure, during one session. "It was eye-opening for us."

As a result, Starz ensured that training and education were a big component of its tablet strategy going forward.

Shifting to thinking about the user first, however, can bring challenges of its own, such as providing cost-effective technology to a set of users who have various levels of experience.

"We have to rein in the folks that use the latest and greatest at home, because they always want to do more with what we give them, and they push us to do more," said Paul Gustafson, head of IT at Domtar Paper Co. LLC, a paper manufacturer based in Greenville, N.C. "But on the other end there are employees that aren't tech-savvy. We can't spoon-feed them with help and training and things like that, because they now have a device that requires them to be more proactive in using it."

User feedback drives app strategies

A user-first mentality as the first strategy to combat consumerization also applies for companies deploying business data to consumer apps.

WellPoint Inc., a managed health care provider based in Indianapolis, acknowledged they have always been good at crunching big data but weren't competent at building consumer-facing applications.

The company's first mobile application, released last December, was widely panned by its user base. "It was very humbling," said Rickey Tang, WellPoint's chief technology officer. "The feedback on the app store wasn't very positive."

Rather than cut its losses, WellPoint focused on what it did well, partnered with companies where it was weak, and relied on customer feedback to deliver mobile applications its users would benefit from. Indeed, IT needs to understand business user needs before deploying a new technology.

"There's no such thing as a technology project," said Steve Damadeo, IT operations manager at a global industrial automation and pneumatics manufacturer based in Long Island, N.Y. "There are business projects that use technology, but technology changes quickly, so you need to have options."

That's the approach Damadeo took when he deployed 500 tablets at his organization. While the majority of those tablets are Apple Inc.'s iPad, the company has also tested Microsoft's Surface Pro. His stance is that the best service and device delivered is the one that enables users to get their job done efficiently.

"We don't ask [people] enough, 'What do you want to do?'" Damadeo said.

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Has consumerization affected your IT projects?
Doing communications and systems design for mass transit agencies we are facing increasing demand from the ridership to enable many of the vehicle schedules and ticket vending machine services as mobile apps.
It's possible to go even one step further. Customers often don't tell the ideal thing they want to do because they want to sound "realistic". Sometimes it helps to identify what the customer would want to do if you could offer him tools and possibilities which are beyond his actual imagination. Or as Henry Ford said: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, thexy would have asked for a faster horse".