Apple, Microsoft, Android and the Battle for the Enterprise

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

The Consumerism of IT

Will the consumerization of IT be the final nail in the internal IT support desk?

Each age is characterized by two or three major trends. For telecommunications and IT, recent times feature the ascendency of Apple, the consumerization of IT and the traction gained by cloud computing.

The trends of course are more or less related and co-dependent. In an interesting article based on what certainly figures to be an interesting study by Forrester, Venture Beat suggests that Apple, not the other two trends, is the linchpin to the current dynamic that is shaping how employees work.

The logic is fairly simple: For all the headlines it gathers, the report suggests, cloud computing and infrastructure as a service still are limited and, the story implies, overstated as a trend. However, a trend that has taken root more fully is the consumerization of IT, which also uses the self-explanatory bring-your-own-device (BYOD) label.

And what company is behind BYOD? Apple, of course.

There is a lot of interesting material in the story. Perhaps the biggest difference between cloud computing and BYOD from the IT side is that one is passive and the other active. Implementing cloud requires initiatives - some drastic - from the corporation. BYOD just sort of happens. That makes it much more likely to quickly spread.

The story also says that last year Apple sold about $6 billion each in Macs and iPads to businesses. That presumably doesn't count mobile devices that meandered into the office from their owners' homes.

The next few years will be characterized by a battle for the heart and soul of IT. There's nothing new in that. But what is a bit new is that the battle will be pitched on a playing field that increasingly crosses the IT/consumer line. The topic was touched on in a CIO Q&A with Aaron Freimark, the IT director at Tekserve, an Apple services firm.

He said that Android indeed will be a player because IT departments will think that they can better control it. But, he suggests, a more fundamental question is on the table than which OS will win:

This is a religious war: whether businesses really need to control the innovation and the technology, or whether businesses should just be innovators in their field and let the technology be useful. The story isn't that businesses have lost some sort of advantage in the consumerization of IT. The story is about the fantastic strides consumer technology has made.

On the more parochial question of Apple versus the rest of the field, Freimark - who would seem to have a horse in the race - suggests that Cupertino has been more actively going after the enterprise than observers have noted:

Companies may have not have been satisfied with Apple's support in the enterprise, but the reality is that Apple has made big changes in the iPhone, specifically, for businesses. It's not something Apple markets, which is part of the perception problem.

The next battlefield may be the Ultrabook, an emerging ultra-light class of laptops that are being pushed by Intel. Computerworld suggests that IT may be impacted by the new device, which it says could be the computer star of the International Consumer Electronics Show now being held in Las Vegas. The story quotes Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group on the attractiveness of ultrabooks:

"I do expect to see [enterprises] starting to outfit their employees with these new systems," he added. "For enterprises, ultrabooks will probably simplify their lives. These new systems are essentially traditional laptops in new form factors and some new technical wrinkles -- something that is well known to corporate IT departments. So I would think they'd be happy to support ultrabooks as a corporate laptop standard."

Thus, the stage is set for a Microsoft counterstrike against Apple. Clearly, though, the dynamic is fluid - and the future of enterprise computing will be wholly or mostly based on what consumers, not IT departments, want.

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