NASA Gets The Consumerization Of IT. Do You?

Jul 25, 2011 (01:07 PM EDT)

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On July 20, 1969, NASA landed a man on the moon. On July 21, 2011, NASA ended manned space flight. But NASA isn't quitting the space program, it's just outsourcing it.

Over those 42 years, space travel changed drastically. By comparison, the consumerization of information technology (CoIT) now occurring in the enterprise is happening practically overnight. Yet if you want to see a model of CoIT in action, look to NASA. And I'm not talking about engineers bringing iPads to work, but a broader, mile-high view.

CoIT empowers smaller groups to make a greater impact with less. Consider that it took a nation to get a man into low orbit in 1961. In 2004, a handful of people in California could do it. That's when Mike Melvill piloted SpaceShipOne into orbit and became the first commercial astronaut.

"SpaceX [the space exploration technology company founded by Elon Musk] is using largely off the shelf Linux computers and TCP/IP internal to the Falcon Launch Vehicles," said BYTE senior editor, Michael Doornbos, who's also the editor at, said on the day that NASA parked Atlantis. "When I asked a NASA engineer about it, he said it seemed silly to reinvent something that works fine for their applications."

NASA gets consumerization--doing what the enterprise does with a smaller team, faster, and with off-the-shelf tools. The space agency is already replacing one of its five space shuttles with smaller nimbler craft.

NASA is doing that by partnering with outside developers that will compete to advance and accelerate space travel, which is NASA's stated objective. To act as if it had exclusive rights to space travel would make NASA irrelevant. And it would be silly.

Consumerization leads to nimbler action and better tools than you would get through the traditional bureaucracy of IT. It's just like we see at work. While your colleagues slog along on aging BlackBerrys--all because IT hasn't issued new ones yet--you could self-provision Droids that actually work. As a result, the enterprise becomes more resilient and nimble because it has empowered the endpoints to use the tools it wants.

Either you embrace CoIT or you compete with it. My advice to IT is to embrace consumerization. Embrace the change. Steward the prosumer and steer the growth.

Analysts agree. According to Gartner analysts, by 2014 "citizen developers" are expected to build 25% of the new business applications. These are people are sitting in the business units. The report says, "end users can now build a wide range of internal and public applications without IT involvement. IT organizations should engage end users, and help them become 'good citizen' developers to create competitive advantage and manage risks."

Sounds like a page out of NASA's playbook. Empower the small players and you empower the enterprise. That's what CoIT is all about.

Dino Londis is a BYTE technologist focusing on COIT. He's also an IT pro in New York City. Email him at