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Next-Generation Consumerization – Preparing for the Customer and Employee of the Future – research commentary

One firm’s employee is another firm’s customer. This means that the great majority of businesspeople are both customers and employees at the same time. Yet today, most firms treat their customers and their employees as if they were entirely different species. This is especially true with information technology. We take for granted that customers should be able to use whatever devices and internet services they want, but employee IT is often tightly constrained. Tensions have been inevitable.

Next-Generation Consumerization

We have encouraged Enterprise IT organizations to treat their firm’s workforce more like consumers and adults, and less like children.

In recent years, our consumerization research has focused on the need to provide employees with improved consumer-like flexibility1. We have encouraged Enterprise IT organizations to treat their firm’s workforce more like consumers and adults, and less like children. Since the capabilities and appeal of modern smart phones, tablets, apps and online services are now undeniable, the need for CIOs to support consumerization has become clear – hence today’s burgeoning Bring Your Own Technology movement. As BYOT becomes commonplace, the gap between consumer and employee IT usage is narrowing.

Given this progress, the focus of our consumerization research can now shift toward the customer. After all, consumerization should be about consumers, especially today. We have long argued that the consumerization of IT is just getting started and that employee devices and BYOT would prove to be just an important initial phase. Recent advances in information technology can now give us a much better glimpse of the customer of the future, a topic of great interest not just to Enterprise IT, but to the entire firm, from the CXO suite on down.

As we begin this Next Generation of consumerization research, we see a whole new wave of powerful new technologies and dynamics, seven of which are listed below:

  • Information technology is reshaping the buying process, as community-generated content is often the most important purchasing influence. Smart firms are learning how to motivate their customers to work for them.

  • Customers are looking for personalized experiences, not just standard products; this will require new levels of customization, customer-centricity and co-creation.

  • Wearable computers and internet of things devices connected to smart phones will monitor our location, spending, exercise, sleep, pulse, blood pressure, diet and even ECG, opening up entirely new marketplace possibilities.

  • Crowdsourcing will become widespread, ranging from everything from simple fuel price reporting to predictive models developed via data science ‘hackathons’.

  • Personal identities, authentication and related security will be consumerized through mobile phones, social media profiles, email addresses and biometrics.

  • Agent technology that works for the customer (not the vendor) will further empower and support the individual as both a buyer and an information provider/consumer.

  • Consumers, not businesses, will increasingly control their own data.

Understanding these and similar changes is the main mission of our 2013 consumerization research and Study Tour. This work will also draw heavily upon our recent research into the Marketing/IT relationship and the need for firms to be more outside-in. Giving clients a clear picture of the IT-empowered customer of the future is now one of our highest research priorities.

While customers will be at the forefront of most of the changes listed above, employees will not be far behind. Employees will often need to use these same tools and services, and will increasingly want their workstyles and lifestyles to converge in areas such as developing double-deep skills, adopting self-service systems, and pursuing the required IT learning.

Businesses should develop an integrated view of both the customer and the employee of the future, coupled with a deep understanding of how IT is affecting both.

This means that businesses should develop an integrated view of both the customer and the employee of the future, coupled with a deep understanding of how IT is affecting both. Such integration is rare today. Marketing focuses on the customer, while HR and IT tend to manage employee issues. But as information technology blurs the lines between work and personal time, skills, interests and technologies, these traditional walls will inevitably break down. From a future of the firm perspective, companies should expect that the impact of IT on their customers and employees will increasingly be one and the same. Employees will want to be treated more like customers, and customers will often work more like employees.

1. While we recognize that “consumers” and “customers” are not exactly the same thing, the overlap is large enough that in this piece we are using the two terms largely interchangeably.


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Research Commentary

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David Moschella
Research Fellow
David Moschella, based in the United States, is a Research Fellow for Leading Edge Forum.  David's focus is on industry disruptions, machine intelligence and related business model strategies.  David was previously Global Research Director of the programme. David’s key areas of expertise include globalization, industry restructuring, disruptive technologies, and the co-evolution of business and IT.  He is the author of multiple research reports, including Disrupting the Professions through Machine Learning and Digital Trust, 2016 Study Tour Report: Applying Machine Intelligence, There is Now a Formula for Machine Intelligence Innovation,  Embracing 'the Matrix' and the Machine Intelligence Era and The Myths and Realities of Digital Disruption. An author and columnist, David’s second book, Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth, was published in 2003 by Harvard Business School Press.  The book predicted the shift from a supplier-driven to today’s customer-led IT environment.  His 1997 book, Waves of Power, assessed global competition within the IT supplier community.  He has written some 200 columns for Computerworld, the IT Industry’s leading publication on Enterprise IT, and has presented at countless industry events all around the world. David previously spent 15 years with International Data Corporation, where he was IDC’s main spokesperson on global IT industry trends and was responsible for its worldwide technology, industry and market forecasts.    


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