#HigherEd and the ‘Consumerization of IT’

Dave Coplin, ‘chief envisioning officer’* at Microsoft, recently gave an interesting talk on ‘Re-Imagining Work’ at the RSA. As part of a broader argument concerning the increasing disjuncture between how digital technology is used outside the workplace and how it is used within the workplace, he discussed the ‘consumerization of IT’ and its implications for organisational structure. Here’s an extract from a Wired article about this a couple of months ago:

The consumerization of IT and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) megatrends in the workplace provide great potential for improved employee productivity, lowered costs, and an easier integration of work with life. They also leave substantial room for disruptive technologies to emerge. In the same way employees prefer to use their personal devices, we’re noting a paradigm shift towards software and applications that enable employees to get their work done more quickly and cost effectively […] Typically employee driven, consumerization of IT has little to do with technology itself—and has everything to do with the way employees work. Throughout time, the most disruptive technologies completely alter the way we work, communicate and live. With consumerization of IT and BYOD preferences in the workplace, the demand for more efficient and consumerized technologies are in high demand—and the technologies that emerge to support these inclinations will be the most disruptive to the current market.


This reminded me of a post written by Amber Thomas, who runs the academic technologies team at Warwick, about the challenges this poses for delivery of IT services within higher education.

And at the same time as the growth of a global infrastructure for researcher identifiers, universities are laying more claim to the published outputs of academics, through the “green” open access self-archiving route (which I strongly support). And we have an increased attention to other academic outputs: the data produced within research projects, and the extent to which other digital outputs create impact, or evidence of public engagement.

And yet, as others have pointed out, as the academic workforce becomes more transient, with more part time contracts, more semi-retirements, more people holding multiple contracts, the rights of the institutional employer become less and less.

I feel that the solution to this paradox is in the way the institution relates to an academic’s whole digital footprint, the way it accommodates the academic’s identity. Perhaps we, IT Services departments, should just embrace the reality that academics’ identities live outside the university. Their profiles live outside the university. Their outputs live outside the university. Their impact happens outside the university. It’s long been the case that universities buy and sell “academic reputation”. Maybe it’s time we fully accept that, and embrace a “bring your own identity” concept in IT Services.


In Coplin’s talk he tries to explore the ramifications of this trend for working practices and organisational structure. However, it’s much more difficult to ‘envision’ these ramifications within higher education. The role of ‘academic technologist’, as something distinct from educational technology, strikes me as important for this: actively exploring new opportunities, facilitating implementation and promoting best practice. But surely there must be more than this to the ‘consumerization of IT’ within higher education?

*To be fair he acknowledges the ludicrousness of this title at the beginning of the talk.

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