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Consumerization calls for a new IT delivery mindset

Expert Niel Nickolaisen offers four steps for meeting IT service delivery expectations in the consumerization era.

The word "consumerization" has become part of the IT language. But how does the consumerization of IT really impact our daily lives? To me, consumerization means that people and experiences beyond our control are setting our customers' expectations of IT. Because we now live in the age of technology immersion, our internal and external customers use lots of technology outside of their experience with us. Thus, their expectations about the use and support of technology come from others -- not just from us.

In practice, this means that at every interaction we are being compared against the best in class. If someone else is incredibly good at the design and delivery of technology, that becomes the standard we must hit. Otherwise, we are not meeting expectations.

For example, my wife is incredibly tough on cell phones. She has washed phones and gone swimming with phones. She has left phones on top of her car then driven off. She is, in fact, the only person I know whose cell phone replacement insurance was cancelled. After her third replacement phone in a year, the insurance company sent a nice letter to tell her they were cancelling her policy. She now has to personally cover the costs of any replacements.

If we tell a customer 'no,' that customer likely knows -- due to consumerization -- someone, somewhere who is doing what we said cannot be done.

Just last week, after a run through both the washing machine and the dryer, her current phone died, requiring a trip to the local retailer to buy a new one. She selected a phone, had them transfer her number, her contacts and her everything onto the new phone. She was in and out of the store in fewer than 10 minutes. This is now her new standard for how long it takes to get IT services. If the IT department at her employer takes longer than 10 minutes to do anything, it is taking too long. In other words, consumerization means that her expectations of her IT department are being set by people outside of her IT department.

Four steps to hitting a consumerization stride

So how do we keep up with the expectations of people like my wife? As a starting point to delivering best in class services, we need to measure and improve our cycle times. How long does it take to provision a service? Measure the current state and then figure out ways to reduce the time. Also, look for ways to automate as much of the process as possible. The cell phone retailers are really good at cell phone provisioning because they have standardized and automated the process.

Next, we should pick and fight the right battles. Too often, we spend our resources on projects and operations that won't really make much of a difference in the lives of our customers. Two weeks ago I had lunch with the CIO of a large institution. He has been in his current role for just over a year. He was explaining that most of his application development and support resources are consumed in maintaining his ERP system. You see, his company has so customized its ERP system (my CIO friend has cataloged over 19,000 customizations) that all his development staff does is maintain those customizations. Somewhere along the line, this company decided to fight the wrong battles when it decided that its accounting, billing, inventory management and so on needed to be unique. This not only reduces available resources but also has a severely negative impact on cycle times. There is no way a system with 19,000 customizations is agile and responsive.

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It is also important for us to do things right the first time. In our technology-driven environment with others setting expectations, we don't have the time or credibility for rework. Automation helps here but so does getting to and eliminating the root cause of any rework.

Finally, we need to excel at customer service. I tell my staff that we can no longer be in the "no" business. If we tell a customer "no," that customer likely knows -- due to consumerization -- someone, somewhere who is doing what we said cannot be done.

I look at consumerization as a great opportunity for us to become best in class at a whole host of things and to prove our value to our organizations. Consumerization motivates us to get better every day at the business of IT.

Niel Nickolaisen is CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He is a frequent speaker, presenter and writer on IT's dual role of enabling strategy and delivering operational excellence. Write to him at

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