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Business IT confronts a world that is going rogue

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Stand outside the front door of a large business on any given morning and you will see throngs of employees walking in, each one carrying a personal device loaded with apps. And the chances are very good that at some point during the day, most of those employees will perform their work using that personal device and one or more of their apps. Consumer technology is changing the world of business information technology (IT) right before our eyes and how companies deal with it is one of the biggest tech stories this year.

At least one chapter of the story was on display this week at the Hilton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. That’s where IT executives and consumer technology analysts gathered in several large ballrooms to hear the latest news and debate the future as part of the two-day CITE (Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise) conference. And there was one clear message heard in nearly every session: employees everywhere are going rogue.

“Rogue is simply people trying to get their jobs done,” said Jamie Barnett, vice president of marketing for Netskope. She spoke on a panel of experts who all testified about the exploding growth of employees using non-sanctioned file sharing apps and personal clouds to do the work for which they were being duly paid. “This is a trend that’s unstoppable,” admitted Todd Krautkremer of Pertino.

This trend is creating a land rush of companies who are seeking to migrate their consumer-based products into the enterprise world where there is real money to be made. Ooma, an Internet-based phone service founded in 2004, originally targeted home consumers who were looking for a cheaper alternative to their costly connections. Earlier this year, the company announced Ooma Office, a small business office phone system that is remarkably less expensive yet just as efficient, one of the hallmarks of truly disruptive technology.

New tools that catch the eye of an enterprising engineer are leading to their adoption in the workplace as well. One of the CITE speakers was Bret Taylor, the former CTO of Facebook and now the co-founder of Quip. His current company makes a product that combines document writing with real-time messaging. Some engineers at a San Francisco startup called New Relic started using his technology and, as usage spread through the firm like wildfire, Taylor suddenly got a call from the IT director who wanted to see how it could be used company-wide. Quip had just made the leap from consumer to enterprise.

Big companies are also experiencing the “employee as consumer” revolution, both as customers and providers. Conference attendees heard Kyle Wells of DirecTV describe how the satellite services giant moved its entire field support team to Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones just in the last year. “We had 21,000 phone lines for 8,000 people,” Wells recalled. A big reason for the imbalance was that employees were using their smartphones to serve customers, instead of the older “rugged” devices the company provided.

Samsung was a visible presence at CITE this week. They clearly are seeking to capitalize on the shift from consumer-only technology to enterprise mobile. Three years ago, Samsung had no enterprise sales force at all. Now, they have a large, dedicated organization whose mission is to land big accounts like DirecTV. “Consumers are going to force IT organizations to adopt what they want to use,” said David Lowe, vice president of Enterprise Sales for Samsung.

Despite the pressure to convert, IT managers for big companies and small are still gazing warily at that one ominous thunderhead on the horizon: security. The explosion of multiple devices working on cloud based applications all day inside a company can create huge vulnerability.

Samsung obviously knows this and they have taken great pains to emphasize that their devices, based on the notoriously hackable Android platform, are truly secure. They promote their protection as Samsung SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) and counter skeptics by describing their version of Android as far more robust than the one the average consumer gets when they take their mobile phone out of the box. “Not all Android is equal,” said Lowe.

What makes this transformation from consumer to enterprise-wide technology use so fascinating is that we can all see it happening out in the open, every day, in real time. “If you want to see the best IT in the world, go to a food truck,” said Peter Christy, director of 451 Research.

His point is well-taken. The humble food truck these days is indeed taking full advantage of mobile technology to order supplies, manage inventory, market the business, communicate with customers, and process sales through cloud-based applications fully available today. It is its own self-contained IT shop, just going rogue.

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