Software Development

From Big Blue to Best Buy?

For all but the most complex technologies, the source of innovation has shifted from companies like IBM to the wares on display at the local big-box electronics store. Coping with this shift will be a major challenge for IT leaders.

In an ongoing shift, most information technology innovation has moved from the large enterprise vendors, who offer their wares to Fortune 500 companies, to consumer technology. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the smartphone. The first smartphone "hit" was the BlackBerry, which became a ubiquitous corporate tool and sign of ones status on the corporate ladder. Now, the latest smartphone innovations come from companies like Apple, HTC, and Google, and are targeted at consumers first, with enterprises adopting them late in the game. For all but the most complex technologies, the source of innovation has shifted from companies like IBM to the wares on display at the local big-box electronics store. Coping with this shift will be a major challenge for IT leaders.

Relocating the innovation pulse

Keeping track of technology innovations used to be relatively easy. A handful of enterprise IT magazines kept you appraised of the latest developments, and if you had even a modest IT budget, vendors were more than happy to stop by to shill their latest and greatest. While these big vendors still "own" large-scale technologies like storage, networking, and mainframe/supercomputers, your teenage niece is likely more versed in the latest social network, smartphone platform, or content delivery mechanism. Frankly, I've met more than a few executives who trust their son or daughter more than their CIO on informing them about emerging technologies.

Combating the risk of falling behind on new consumer-driven technologies need not be all-consuming or overly painful. Shift some of your reading from the increasingly consolidating enterprise IT press to a consumer-focused blog or two. I personally like engadget.com. While there's an overabundance of "noise," merely scanning the headlines gives you an idea of consumer trends, whether it's a shift in mobile operating system preference among consumers or an emerging new category of devices.

Similarly, look for members of your staff who have a deep interest in technology. Usually it's the person with a new mobile phone every six months, or the one taking meeting notes on a tablet. Engage some of these people in a two-way mentoring relationship; they keep you apprised of new technology, and you provide career guidance.

But it's not "enterprise grade"!

A big concern around consumer technology in the enterprise is that it's lacking necessary features and functionality, ranging from robust and easily-maintainable hardware designs to enhanced security functionality. While this is certainly the case, we tend to overestimate the need for an "enterprise grade" solution to every problem, and fail to consider the cost tradeoff that comes with consumer-grade technology.

I read of ESPN using iPads and Xbox video game consoles to replace a custom "enterprise grade" solution that cost approximately 15x 15 times more, and the consumer product was actually more functional and preferred by users. While there are certainly solutions that call for enterprise-level functionality, merely dismissing consumer technology without considering the cost savings, improved ease of use, and rapid deployment times is shortsighted.

At the end of the day, we do ourselves a disservice by considering consumer technology as a unique and distinct class of products, rather than yet another tool for our enterprise toolbox. Rather than regarding your local electronics store as a source of substandard products that users are inappropriately trying to use at work, look at it as one more source for solving your technology problems.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

4 comments
AssemblerRookie
AssemblerRookie

You add in the GFC. The effects of which will be felt for some time yet. Consumer stores (the larger ones in the market at this point) are in a state of flux. That is they are trying to reconfigure there structures to be able to simply stay in the market. Consumer spending has not been forthcoming as was hoped. Confidence in business is still low, sovereign debt in Europe is still very unstable. For example one of the largest euro-zone nations Germany is expected to hit negative growth for at least q3 and q4. One more quarter and technically thats a recession. Germany and France are the largest contributors (in Europe) for the bailouts of the soon to fails ( Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc). Most of these nations have little to build there economies with. Will who you buy from be around long enough to give needed after sales support?

nick
nick

I have spent many years, in several organisations, under the influence of Senior Managers who would not look at anything unless it was Enterprise class. Meanwhile a lot of people were deserting the expertise of the IT Department and doing their own thing. There was I stuck in the middle having to support my Managers while secretly agreeing with the end users. The net result of this was that technologies were introduced that were difficult to manage, reduced security and had set an atmosphere of conflict rather than cooperation between IT and the rest of the organisation. Most of the issues could have been avoided or solutions found, with cooperation.

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