In the last five years, there has been a revolution in the quality, breadth, and availability of applications available to consumers, from commercial retail to customers of government (also known as citizens). It is clear that, far from being passive recipients of products, consumers are now driving the quality of organizational delivery.
"Consumer-grade" is now a mark of quality
In the early nineteenth century, as the industrial revolution was reaching its zenith, magazines of the era were full of advertisements for household goods that were "machine-made" – the implication being that this represented a great leap forward in quality from the "shoddy" handmade efforts knocked up by your local carpenter or blacksmith. By the end of the twentieth century, when the population had become well acquainted with the poor-quality, mass-produced goods turned out of low-end factories, the situation had reversed, and the epithet "handmade" returned to denote goods that customers would hopefully pay a premium for.
A similar cultural change has occurred over the last few years in the world of technology. Until relatively recently, large organizations – whether private or public sector – were the only entities that could possibly afford to purchase and operate computing capabilities. Until ten years ago, most workers had better hardware, software, and connectivity at work than they could dream of having at home.
Reflecting this reality, the term "enterprise-grade" has been widely used as a mark of strong, robust, probably expensive, but above all high-quality computer systems. In fact, "home-use" systems were perceived to be of lower functionality, reliability, and quality. However, while the "enterprise-grade" moniker maintains currency in many markets, "consumer-grade" is increasingly being used to denote product quality – especially when referring to end-user interfaces.
This is the case even when the product is not of interest to the average consumer, with a number of complex technical software vendors now promoting the "consumer-grade" qualities of their tools' interfaces. The clear implication is that consumer expectations are driving the quality of the majority of products, and attaching a "consumer-grade" tag conveys an ease of use, reliability, and fit-for-purpose design paradigm that translates across industries.
With all human–computer interactions now judged against the best consumer applications, regardless of industry, organizations that ignore the consumerization of interfaces do so at their peril.
2016 Trends to Watch: CRM, IT0020-000168 (December 2015)
"Customer-managed journeys provide the key to omnichannel success," IT0020-000172 (January 2016)
"Is the age of 'app frenzy' over?" IT0007-000838 (October 2015)
When it comes to technology, Uber is cool, government is creepy, IT0007-000829 (July 2015)
Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector