Steve Ellis, Executive Vice President at Wells Fargo; and Dr. Alan Weston, Director of Programs at NASA Ames Research Center, shared the stage during a captivating Economist panel discussion that covered the state of consumer driven IT. This is the first in a series of three posts I will be writing about this remarkable panel of business leaders.
Dr. Weston gives insight into how NASA is using consumer driven IT to further space exploration. Mr. Ellis talked about how Wells Fargo is using consumer driven IT to establish and maintain a lead over competitors. One theme emerged as the common thread binding both organizations: consumer driven IT is used as a catalyst for innovation.
Perhaps we should start calling it “consumer driven innovation” instead, with “consumers” representing all the audiences — employees, customers, partners, vendors, institutions — that are now driving enterprise innovation.
Personally, there’s so much good stuff to be had in the video that I’ve watched it several times, pen and notepad in hand (OK, sometimes pen and paper just works better than their electronic counterparts; I admit it). But as the King of All Innovators, Steve Jobs, was famous for saying, I have “one more thing” to share.
And that would be the challenges of using consumer driven IT to innovate, as well as empower, cut costs, raise productivity, and all the other benefits usually attached to it.
Here are the top four challenges of consumer driven IT that I took away from the session, along with the panelist’s advice for overcoming them. Some of these might be obvious, but they need to be stated regardless.
1. Security: Assume it’s broken. Wells Fargo’s Ellis put the fine point on this, saying that, of the hundreds of companies he’s worked with in the past 15 years, he could count on one hand the number that truly understood security. Ellis says you must assume that everyone who connects to your enterprise is already compromised, even if they are connecting in a secure manner (authenticated, HTTPS, etc.). Wells Fargo’s entire system architecture is designed using that assumption, and the result is the $21 billion financial institution built up lots of defenses to protect its resources. Remember, security is a preventative, not an absolute. The smarter you can be in putting in place intelligent security that doesn’t complicate consumers’ system use, the better. Or, as CA Technologies has often said, you need to move from “No” to “Know."
2. Complexity: Make it go away. On one hand we need to harden our systems. On the other, we need to allow fast and easy logons and access. Complicating this is the fact that there are, literally, thousands of different consumer devices, apps, and sites — and some of them are designed to help users skirt enterprise controls. Staying ahead of consumer driven IT trends means nothing if the technologies used by consumers aren’t managed effectively. Ditto if users feel the options they are given by IT are inadequate. One solution: focus on the most popular devices, and best-of-breed apps and services. That, by definition, draws a line in the sand as to what technologies IT will support. But it also gives consumers nearly everything they want — iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android, for example, and a carefully cultivated selection of the very best (read: most popular) apps on each — without IT being perceived as the Department of “No.” Instead, consumers get choices, just like they do in an app store. Moreover, now IT doesn’t have to support a tsunami of consumer tech. This principal applies internally as well as externally. Imagine having to connect 50 different business units, each using a different CRM tool. Instead, choose the core CRM platform, and provide a refined selection of additional devices, apps and services that users can choose to connect with it.
3. Integration: You’ll have to DIY. The vast majority of consumer driven technology is relatively shallow or narrow in its function, and how it integrates with the enterprise and business processes. Fundamentally this is because vendors of consumer devices and applications are not really focused on the enterprise and, as a result, do little more than provide what’s needed for users to connect, regardless of IT policy. They’re having no trouble getting businesses to adopt their technology by virtue of massive consumer uptake. (See Andi Mann’s recent post about why the public cloud is failing in the enterprise for some great insight on this.) You must plan to invest time and money learning how to hook your organization’s selected devices and tools together, and how to wire them into your IT security and management systems.
4. Agility: It’s reusable. There are 50 different businesses in the wholesale side of Wells Fargo. A few years ago, several of them wanted to build their own iPad apps. But if all of the bank’s businesses are building their own apps their own way, Wells Fargo risks losing its unified user interface image. Discrepancies in style and functionality within the various apps would frustrate consumers. And core functionality would be reinvented time and again. NASA faced a similar problem, with lots of scientists potentially reinventing the wheel as the organization generated code to capitalize on Android’s open source. Both institutions established a general framework that let developers build the apps they needed, while promoting code and business logic reuse (or, in NASA’s case, reuse of engineering logic). Wells Fargo also established best practices that ensure its consumer-facing apps present a uniform user and brand experience.
The four challenges and their suggested solutions are, of course, not the end of the list. But these are the four big buckets that I took away from watching the Economist panel. What do you think? Is consumer driven IT the catalyst for innovation? Can it be contained and channeled and, if so, what challenges do you see? And how would you address them?