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Prosumers deliver the real future shock for CIOs
When the futurist Alvin Toffler introduced the notion of the 'Prosumer' in the early 1980s he said it was the "progressive blurring of the line that separates producer from consumer".
Toffler described a new age of prosumption as the arrival of a new form of economic and political democracy, with self-determined work, labour autonomy and autonomous self-production. Of course his concept of prosumption was centred on consumers taking a more active role in the production of "mass customized" products, hence the name prosumer as a mix of producer and consumer.
While Toffler was thinking about new approaches to industry production he may not have realised just how disruptive the prosumers that he began to describe would eventually become during the digital age.
Every CIO has a story of a prosumer amongst the ranks of end-users within their organisation, someone described once by Duncan Riley as “a professional–consumer hybrid, much more comfortable with surfing the web, finding creative solutions, creating content, and solving vexing problems”.
Typically, the prosumer in the enterprise has the following characteristics:
- Higher education, strong academic credentials and highly skilled, a technical leader in their own field.
- High salary with which they are willing to splash out on their own technology solutions and gadgets.
- Have self-configured their own technology solutions for their personal lives that are far more efficient and effective than the technology provided for them in the workplace.
- They are by no means passive, coupled with a mentality of self-service – ‘I want this solution now’.
- They are very intolerant of inferior technology or cumbersome, slow moving enterprise IT departments and find it far easier to bypass the under-invested IT department to solve their own vexing problems.
There are a number of factors in recent times that have created ‘perfect storm’ conditions that will ensuring the persistent rise of the enterprise prosumer: the ‘consumerisation’ of technology, advanced gadgetry, ubiquitous Cloud computing, mobility, the app store, BYOD and even the rise of Big Data allowing the prosumer to capture more meaningful sensory data to advance their chosen fields. However one of the most significant factors is the SaaS Cloud vendors who are seizing on the opportunity to market directly to the prosumer thereby bypassing the more structured, slow moving and Cloud-cautious IT department.
For example, the marketing by the SaaS vendor Zoho depicts the IT department as ‘monster-makers’ all working on this Frankenstein, which is how they describe the enterprise IT legacy environment. And another SaaS vendor Anaplan boldly proclaims the benefits of ‘Zero Touch IT’; in other words you can get what you need by bypassing IT altogether. Even in the early days of Salesforce.com, the sales strategy was rumoured to be focused on finding the single prosumer in the business with an unfulfilled need, knowing full well that one satisfied prosumer-customer would eventually lead to many more within that business, and all under the nose of the IT department.
The following factors support the notion that prosumption is delivering new classes of sophisticated end-users that will continue to place pressure on the traditional ICT management and governance frameworks:
- The prosumer will often possess advanced technical skills sometimes of equal standing to the ICT professional.
- The entry barrier for the prosumer to play in the solution development space has become considerably low.
- The Cloud and mobility solutions providers will continue to capitalise by providing numerous entry points for the prosumer as they market to the ‘zero touch IT’ sentiment.
- The prosumer will increasingly demand access to tools and environments for the development of their own solutions to manage their increasing appetite for timely data and information.
- In some industries the prosumer will even collaborate with their external industry peers on developing innovative solutions to solving vexing and more industry-wide problems.
Depending on the type of business, many CIOs should expect that the prosumer base within their organisations will only increase considerably and as a result some of the traditional methods and approaches for managing end-users will have to adapt and change. The CIO should see the rise of the prosumer as not only a challenge but also a tremendous opportunity for unleashing innovation and a real chance for developing leading industry solutions. But be prepared to explore new, unorthodox and more radical management approaches in order to deal with this challenge.
Over future articles I will provide a number of case studies on this topic and give examples of how CIOs are dealing with the rise of prosumerism within their organisations.
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