Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Information Technology (IT) in enterprises and corporations is often characterised by uniformity, outdated basic specifications, boring 'grey' designs, and a lack of aesthetic appeal. The consumer market for devices and gadgets by contrast typically has a much faster innovation cycle, some wonderful design flair, and in general IT that people want to own and use. Enterprise IT almost invariably includes a Microsoft element and indeed the software giant is very good at selling to organisations. It understands much less about selling to individual consumers; indeed most private individuals use of its product revolves around the Windows operating system for PCs, which the consumer almost never has to buy due to it being automatically bundled with the hardware. Apple, on the other hand, has a relationship with consumers which is built around a core of loyalty but has not particularly courted the enterprise market outside of educational institutions and publishing houses.
IT departments cost organisations quite a significant amount to run, and are often outside their core business. Outsourcing is a common option but there is an increasing trend beginning to happen, and one which I believe we will see much more of in future, especially where the IT mainly consists of desktop computing and personal items (mobile phones, PDAs etc.). This trend, the so-called "Consumerisation of IT", is where instead of providing the IT kit, the organisation treats it much like many treat the provision of company cars. The enterprise doesn't have an IT department in this scenario, but rather gives each employee some money to buy their own mobile phone, laptop computer etc. Suitable providers can be briefed by the company on what the minimum required specification is for its employees. Employees can also purchase training if they want it. This together with any hardware repair or replacement costs can be claimed back via the existing expenses system in the enterprise. For a number of companies, this can actually be a cheaper option than running the IT department, company-wide licence provision, and policy specification, communication and attempted enforcement.
But this way of providing IT is not just about the economic benefits. In the future, talented people who apply for jobs may choose who they want to work for partly on the basis of how flexible the organisation is about the kit they have to use to perform the job. In particular many of these people will have better kit which they are more familiar with already in their (consumer) private lives, and will baulk at the idea of downgrading when they join a new company. User satisfaction will be an important factor. And to attract the best people, enterprises will need to offer the most flexible options. The corporate/personal life split of synchronising information between devices will also be unsustainable without more flexible unification of the two. There will be a general blending of work/life entities.
So maybe the Apple approach to wooing consumers and Microsoft's lack of understanding them will result in a gradual shift in who dominates enterprise IT in future?