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Consumerization of IT: Workflow is just the beginning!


This blog is loosely based on my talk – How to build products on cloud at Google g|days. You can also find the presentation of my talk below.

Couple of years back, Y Combinator published a list of ideas they would like to fund. One idea that caught my attention was Outsourced IT:

In most companies the IT department is an expensive bottleneck. Getting them to make you a simple web form could take months. Enter Wufoo. Now if the marketing department wants to put a form on the web, they can do it themselves in 5 minutes. You can take practically anything users still depend on IT departments for and base a startup on it, and you will have the enormous force of their present dissatisfaction pushing you forward.

This idea is not new, though. For decades, companies have tried to make software simple enough for normal users.  But only in the last 5 years, this is becoming a reality. Everything – from mobile devices to office productivity software are first adopted by consumers. Once they are successful, they are forcing their IT departments to adopt it in their companies! What happened?

Well! Cloud happened!

Before cloud, companies tried hard to simplify their software. But, they couldnt change the one thing that mattered most – Software had to be installed in their customer’s datacenter. It needed server, database, network and ongoing maintenance. So, it still needed IT support. IT continued to be the gatekeeper for all enterprise software.

When cloud happened, software came pre-installed (with servers, databases) on the Internet. With Cloud, you don’t have to install, run and maintain servers. All you need, is to swipe your credit-card and start using them on the Internet. This eliminated the dependency users had with IT for servers and ongoing maintenance. Users now have the freedom to try software and buy them if they have the budget. This started off with Gmail users adopting Google Apps in their companies. Now, it’s everywhere – right from form builders (Wufoo) to workflow builders (Kissflow).

This puts the focus back on the usability of software. Today, creating software on cloud is all about walking a thin line:

Making it easy-to-use that makes users successful, right from the first time they try the product i.e. usability.
Adding enough functionality that users find valuable enough to buy i.e. functional depth of the software.

It is this fine blend of usability and depth that defines the success of consumerization of IT. With the cost of startups dramatically going down and the renewed focus on usability (thanks to Apple), we can be sure that consumerization of IT will be only be on the rise.

The other area of focus is the changing role of IT  in the consumerization era. IT might have been slow to respond to the business dynamics in the past. But, their concerns are real – especially about the single version of truth and centralized management. It is very important to avoid multiple versions of truth – multiple versions of leave approval workflow designed by each department floating around the company and multiple versions of master data used across ERP, CRM and workflow systems. It needs centralized management of processes, data and users, even if it was built by different teams in the same company.

An IT team that believes in the true spirit of empowering its users, at the same time guides them to create a single of version of truth (both in application and data) will be the true champions for consumerization of IT!