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Steve Jobs, American exceptionalism and the consumerization of IT

This is going to be about Steve Jobs and the legacy among his many legacies that bears directly on CIOs: the consumerization of IT in the enterprise. Actually, I prefer to call it the democratization of IT. But first, Jobs’ stepping down this week as CEO of Apple, the elegiac tone of the response to this news and the collective angst over our battered economy suggest another point worth making: The next time some politician tries to score points — and stir up havoc — by lamenting that this country has lost faith in American exceptionalism, she or he should reflect on Apple.

And on Google and Facebook and Twitter and Amazon and eBay and, yes, Microsoft.

Not only is Apple’s Steve Jobs an exceptional American, his company also is one of many exceptional American-born businesses whose technology has done nothing short of re-ordering the world — and not by shock and awe, at least in the military sense of that expression. Of course, there are many inspiring non-American companies that have produced great technology — Sony comes to mind. But for sheer inventiveness, American tech boggles the mind. American predominance in tech is less about technology than about new ideas — an unerring sense of how the future could operate.

IT experts like to call this disruptive technology. In fact, a Gartner analyst did just that the day before Jobs stepped down. In an online rundown of the top 10 technologies for 2011, tuned in to by many CIOs, he referred to the iPad as a disruptive technology with “tremendous implications for IT strategy.”’s reporting on the march of personalized mobile computing into the enterprise, the iPad in particular, makes it clear that CIOs have registered the disruption. And the effective ones are finding ways to say yes, not only to the iPad but also to the democratization of IT in the enterprise, from bring-your-own-device (or BYOD) policies to putting business intelligence into the hands of people on the job.

I never interviewed Steve Jobs. For all the tech conferences I’ve schlepped to, I never even saw him on stage, in his iconic black turtleneck and jeans. In the pictures that ran with the obituary-like reports that have poured out since his stepping-down announcement, he looked frail; but of course, he is just the opposite: demonstrating throughout his career the rugged individualism that makes Americans, and the non-native born who choose to be here, special.

We’d like to hear from CIOs on Jobs’ impact on enterprise IT. You can reach me at

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