The consumerisation of IT is not just about affordable hardware.

It is a state of mind. It is an attitude on the part of individuals. It is the reflection of the aspirations of a generation, their need to participate, their desire to contribute, to give something back, and their need to belong and feel they are part of a community of kindred spirits.

In our globalised, internet-connected, always-on world, technology has become the invisible enabler, both a catalyst for interaction and commerce and the conduit for information. But the balance of power between the technology industry, the businesses they serve and the individual (or society as a whole in their collective influence) is changing significantly.

The sheer size of consumer markets is starting to drive technology development and specifications, with far-reaching results. Consumers don’t buy technology rationally based on extensive analysis of features. For a growing generation of digital native teenagers, now looking for their third or fourth computer, this years’ mobile phone issues of design and image are paramount.

New expectations

Technological capability is expected and assumed – technology purchases are more often based on lifestyle, fashion or whim. Visceral and emotional reactions and the influence of others inside their community play a much larger role than in the corporate purchasing model.

Having said that, the rush towards embracing “green” issues and corporate social responsibility has demonstrated that even corporate purchasing decisions are changing. An industry that grew up with beige boxes is having to embrace issues of design and style.

The increasing affordability and power of consumer computing devices such as PCs and smartphones has placed growing pressure on enterprises to reconcile the expectations of the individuals to use their ‘personal infrastructure’ with the security and management risks for the enterprise.

Ignoring the risks may lead to anarchy, but simply saying ‘no!’ is unlikely to resolve the matter either. Enterprises are struggling to reach a compromise, but while CIOs may be focusing on the dangers of employee-controlled hardware in their infrastructure, the impact of consumertargeted services is more insidious and will be more disruptive in the longer term.

Facebook prohibition

In addition, as social networking site usage patterns grow, almost half of UK companies were recently reported to be banning Facebook access for their employees. Although there are legitimate concerns over the sharing of personal and confidential information, such crude attempts to control individuals’ usage of technology are unlikely to succeed and simply serve to foster unrest and resentment among users. Denying knowledge workers access to a powerful tool for collaboration will do little to encourage creativity, productivity and innovation in the workplace .

The influence of individuals is also being felt in the software arena. The likes of Google and Amazon have revolutionised software with accessible interfaces, allowing intriguing and innovative ‘mashups’ combining location information with satellite imagery or extending search and e-commerce to the individual. Advertising funded applications have made powerful functionality essentially free to the user, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. As individuals increasingly use these ‘free’ services at home, the quality, diversity and ease of use is steadily undermining their long-held attitudes in their workplace that everything must be done in-house.

Service provision

Web services, web 2.0, business process outsourcing, pay-as-you-go licensing models and the whole concept of software-as-a-service is building an ever broader range of options. Whether it is CRM services by the call, CPU cycles by the hour or storage by the gigabyte/month it seems that almost everything is becoming available as a service. IT ownership by the enterprise is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. There will always be those who, for a variety of reasons choose to keep critical infrastructure and capabilities in-house, but we are fast reaching the point where there is a real choice.

The consumerisation of IT is probably the most significant trend of this decade.

It lies at the heart of the intersection of technology, business and society and is already reshaping the IT industry and starting to redefine the relationship between businesses, governments and the individual.

Networking possibilities

In the space of just a few years, social networking sites have expanded from nothing to some of the hottest sites on the web – generating around seven per cent of all internet traffic.

Individuals from a broad crosssection of society are discovering the means to belong, and the influence which global online communities wield, on sites like MySpace and Facebook .

MySpace still dominates, but newcomer Facebook is growing fast – more than trebling active users in the last year and generating 40 billion page views every month. Most significantly, Facebook users are older and are increasingly using the system for professional collaboration.