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Consumerization of IT

February 4, 2012

© 2012 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine 

Computer use is going through a significant change… one that is challenging the status quo of most church and ministry networks.  The IT world refers to it as the Consumerization of IT, and it is growing.  What is it, and what does it mean for your church system?

What It Means
There was a day when the big IT discussion among church and ministry leaders was centered on the questions of Why would a church want a computer? and Why would we want to connect our computers?  Those discussions are long gone now that most have computers and all of them are connected!

Computers come in all sizes today:

  • Servers
  • Desktops
  • Laptops and Notebooks
  • Netbooks
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones

Yes, I included tablets and smartphones!  They are capable of doing all that many of our users need to do, and that is affecting the way we design systems!  In fact, it is part of the foundation of this move towards IT consumerization.

Simply said, this term means that people want to use computers with which they are familiar and comfortable— even bringing theirs in to work!— rather than necessarily those historically provided by employers.  This is a shift as large as the microcomputer in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s, and will impact every organization.

Why It Is Growing
Computer platforms like Windows and Mac have become more similar in their abilities, yet they are still fairly different in style and methodology.  The keystrokes are similar, but different enough to warrant the preference to stay on their familiar platform to maximize their productivity.  In addition, the abilities and applications available to run on tablets and smartphones is increasing rapidly, making those mobile devices capable alternatives for many IT functions like email, calendaring, task management, word processing, and even spreadsheets!

The argument that is gaining traction is that if someone already has a capable device they can work on, and they are familiar enough with it to be productive, why make them switch to a different platform or device that will slow them down due to lack of familiarity?  And from a profit, or productivity perspective, it makes sense.  It also makes sense if companies won’t have the expense of buying and maintaining these devices, though that is debatable.

Why Are IT Managers Pushing Back?
For years IT managers have been working to secure their networks in part to improve their reliability and uptime.  One of the standards in IT is to never let an unauthorized computer access the network for many reasons, including:

  • The computer could be infected with malware that could impact the entire network.
  • The person using the computer could copy sensitive files, like the contributions database for unauthorized use.

I agree with that strategy— or at least I did.  The state of IT, which is constantly changing, is moving in a direction that nullifies nearly all of the reasons to push back against IT consumerization— but only if done strategically.  I say that because the new direction is toward cloud-based services and data storage, but many don’t understand the strategic issues behind how to do cloud services well and thus expose their ministries to many potential perils.

How to Prepare For It
As you consider cloud services and data storage, there are two critical points that need a lot of focus in the decision-making process

  1. The Cloud has two sides: Public and Private.
    As leaders of our churches and ministries we have the responsibility of making decisions that are in our organization’s best interest.  It’s like when a parent makes a decision for their toddler.  The toddler doesn’t have the decision-making capacity to make good decisions, so it is incumbent on the parents to make good decisions on the toddler’s behalf.  The same is true for church and ministry leaders.  Understanding the difference between the cloud’s public and private sides is important when deciding which datasets to put there.
    • The public cloud refers to servers and services anyone can access.  It includes Facebook, websites, etc.  Photos and videos are appropriate to be located, or hosted in the public cloud.  That means it’s okay to use services like Facebook, YouTube, etc for them.  They are files we want the public at large to find and see because they are often part of what might be called the marketing campaign that helps us reach previously unreached audiences.  They also help us keep relationships and communications up-to-date with those already connected to our ministries.
    • The private cloud refers to servers and services you cannot access unless you have been preauthorized— just like the servers in your building.  To take advantage of their services and datastore requires knowing how to find them (a specific URL or IP address) and a login ID and password.
    • Email, databases, instant messaging, and file storage should be kept private within the organization, and thus should not be hosted in the public cloud.  Rather, these should be hosted by providers and services that are on the private side of the cloud.
  2. Not all datacenters are created equal.
    Datacenters are typically very large facilities where there are many racks of servers, multiple Internet provider connections, and multiple legs of electrical power.  The better your datacenter, the more likely your servers and services will have a high degree of uptime.  Conversely, the poorer your datacenter, the more likely your servers and services will not always be up and available when you need them to be.  Thus choosing a quality datacenter is very important.
    • The Uptime Institute has established a four tier rating system for datacenters.  The lowest tier is I, and the highest is IV.
      • Tier 1 datacenters have no or little redundancy and experience up to 28.8 hours of downtime annually.
      • Tier II datacenters have partial redundancy in power and cooling, and experience up to 22 hours of downtime annually.
      • Tier III datacenters have what is referred to as N+1 fault tolerance with no more than 1.6 hours of downtime annually.  That means that whatever is needed to run the hosted systems (N legs of power, internet connections, etc), there is at least one additional of everything to provide better uptime.
      • Tier IV datacenters have at least two times the necessary components that a Tier III datacenter has, and is referred to as 2N+1 fully redundant.  Tier IV datacenters have less than 2.4 minutes of downtime annually.
    • Churches and ministries should only consider Tier III and Tier IV datacenters, and preferably will set their minimal limit for critical services such as email and their database as being in Tier IV datacenters.

Working through those issues will help raise protection levels dramatically, and will make the move towards consumerization of IT much more comfortable. And, as in all we do in church and ministry management, will help bring those words we long to hear from our Master: “Well done.”

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