Conventional wisdom holds that the PC is not long for the enterprise. As more mobile-savvy users flood the knowledge workforce, the thought of being tied to a desk just to get some work done will soon seem as quaint as parasols and boater hats.
Of course, conventional wisdom is not always wrong. While talk of the PC’s ultimate extinction may be overblown, the fact is that we are on the cusp of a new, largely mobile, information economy.
Odd, then, that many of the top PC manufacturers seem to be doubling down on the technology. Following IBM’s much heralded exit from the market nearly a decade ago, it seemed that other leaders would have read the tea leaves by now and at least placed more stock in servers, storage, networking and other core components while relegating the user device to low-margin commodity status.
Instead, we have Dell CFO Brian Gladden talking up the company’s PC business, even while CEO Michael Dell is telling analysts that once the privatization process is complete he plans to "go back to our roots, focusing on the entrepreneurial spirit that made it one of the fastest-growing and most successful companies in history." Mind you, that all happened in the mid-1980s when the company gained fame as a low-cost PC maker. Later efforts to expand into higher-level enterprise infrastructure were middling at best.
As well, Microsoft has shown no sign that it is looking to shed its PC past, even as it takes steps to capitalize on mobile and cloud architectures. Outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, who could remain on the job for another year and is likely to continue as a member of the board of directors in any event, said flatly last month that the Windows PC will remain the “device of choice” in the enterprise even as mobile technology enters the workplace. That hasn’t stopped the company from working on a version of Office for the iPad or Android tablets, but Ballmer insists that these devices will offer little more than entertainment, while real productivity will come from the PC.
But is this a solid business plan, or just wishful thinking? People who have taken a hard look at the numbers are leaning toward the latter. Gartner analysts Leslie Fiering and Stephen Kleynhans, for instance, are looking at an enterprise environment dominated by BYOD and BYOA (Bring Your Own Application) within the next five years. In their view, users will incorporate work into their own personal cloud, which will have the capability of syncing half a dozen devices or more. This would lead to a PC market crash and force enterprise data centers to embrace multi-vendor, multi-device infrastructure or face obsolescence.
And even if today’s mobile devices do not provide the enterprise-level capabilities that the PC offers, that may not be true for very long. Samsung, for one, is taking direct aim at enterprise applications through its Solutions Exchange, a new portal that provides various tools and APIs for the Galaxy platform. The idea is to entice developers into building enterprise-friendly apps that take advantage of key Galaxy features like S-Pen stylus and the Air View and Air Gesture motion-tracking functions.
As I said, though, it isn’t likely that the PC will be shoved out the enterprise door entirely. True, many applications these days are conducive to walking around, but many still require your butt in a chair – writing blogs, for example.
Does it make sense for enterprises, or tech vendors, to scale back their PC footprints in favor of mobile devices? Perhaps, but the key word going forward will be diversity. The knowledge worker of today faces a broad spectrum of responsibilities and a widening arsenal of tools to address them. Organizations that support multiple client devices and operating environments will see much greater productivity from their human resources than those that don’t.