Collaboration puts consumers in charge. Get over it.

A Gartner Webinar about the “Nexus era of IT” looks at how personal technologies are creating new expectations in IT departments, and how they’ll need to adapt.

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“What does Tupac Shakur, a rapper, have in common with a 3-D printer?”

The answer, according to Daryl Plummer, managing vice-president and fellow at the industry analyst firm Gartner, is that “neither a 3-D printer nor Tupac Shakur is alive at the moment, but both of them are innovations.”

I have to give Gartner credit for opening a recent webinar with such a peculiar riddle. In case you’re wondering what kind of “innovation” Tupac was involved in, it has nothing to do with any contribution he made to gangster rap. In fact, it was the deceased Tupac who was brought back to life as a holographic 3-D projection for a concert. Sadly, he didn’t get to work on the project himself.

Learn more about the Nexus of forces by visiting Allstream’s resource centre with Gartner keynote materials, research and more.

The point of this example, Plummer explained, is that once-obscure technologies are evolving under our noses and beginning to take centre stage, just as the reincarnated rapper did at his posthumous performance.

Plummer used it to illustrate why organizations should be aware that they’re living in a new world, which Gartner calls the “nexus era” of IT. Nexus is the convergence of four forces: information, social, mobile and cloud. Businesses that fail to stay abreast of innovation in these areas do so at their peril, he said.

To remain relevant, he said, they need to understand that it’s consumers who are now shaping IT according to their whims, rather than accepting the technology given to them as they did in the past. Individuals have more freedom now than ever before. And most of all, says Plummer, it’s the rapid adoption of cloud computing and the empowerment it gives to people that’s forcing companies to operate against this “backdrop of consumerization.”

We’ve spent the past 30-odd years in three eras, he said: the PC era (beginning in 1982), the Web era (1993) and since 2011, the nexus era. Today, Plummer said, cloud is what’s enabling consumers to “reach farther than they ever could before.”

“It really took off when people realized that they didn’t have to wait for someone to tell them what to do—they started exploring what they actually could do, and in that process they realized that freedom tasted sweet.”

With users newly emancipated, Plummer said companies should adopt a “mobile first” strategy to realign themselves with the way people in their organizations want to collaborate. Employees are increasingly communicating remotely through mobile video, he said, whether it’s business executives on a conference call, engineers diagnosing a problem with a power plant, or surgeons providing clinical advice via augmented reality systems.

Users are consistently seeking a richer experience in the way they interact. But some firms see themselves existing in a strictly business-to-business milieu and don’t think they have to cater to “consumers,” Plummer said.

“Yes, you do. You do deal with consumers,” he stressed. “Even in the business context, the reason that you deal with consumers is that every business is peopled by consumers. All of the people in your business are acting more and more like individual consumers at work than ever before.”

Plummer added that companies need to embrace analytics to study user preferences and behaviour to ensure their products and services hit the right targets. He also emphasized the growing importance of machine-to-machine communication (“the Internet of things”) and the wealth of information it can provide.

“Sensors being embedded in every device and every object allows us to connect with our world in a way that we had never been able to do before,” he said. “And now that we connect, what do we do with all that information that comes at us?

“We have to find new ways of using it and capitalizing on it as we go.”

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