Consumer Tech in the Enterprise: Balancing Work and Play

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    Like most of the technology initiatives hitting the enterprise these days, the advent of consumer platforms supporting professional applications and processes is met with a mixture of anticipation and caution.

    Everybody likes to work with the tools they are most comfortable with, of course, but since this is enterprise data we’re talking about, it has to be secure, reliable and functional. This puts IT in a tough position by having to support systems that enable highly productive workflows while placing controls that do not interfere with the flexibility and ease-of-use that workers find most desirable.

    According to Information Age’s Chloe Green, many of the top consumer platform providers like Apple and Box are now actively courting professional users through agreements with long-time enterprise vendors like IBM. The impetus behind this is the BYOD movement that has quickly invaded the upper echelons of the business hierarchy, including the CEO. However much the technology wizards in IT might want to maintain control of data infrastructure, the mandate quickly shifts to “make it work” once the boss’s boss has settled on a new way of working with data.

    Sharing IT infrastructure with consumer technology is one thing, but what if the consumer side starts to take over? Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, argues that we could very well be in the midst of a sea change in the enterprise as iOS supplants Windows as the preferred operating system. Millennials are the first generation to come of age with smartphones in their hands rather than PCs on their desks, so it stands to reason that they will want to work as adults the same way they played as children. And for jobs that continue to lend themselves to the desktop, such as word processing and CAD, it makes more sense to maintain compatibility with iOS by using a Mac rather than veering off to a PC-based OS.

    But even if the enterprise still wants to maintain tight control over its workers, it will have to make all sorts of consumer platform concessions in order to appeal to its customers. TechRepublic’s Conner Forrest noted at the recent Dreamforce conference that providers like Salesforce are already gearing their platforms to “connected customers” by addressing everything from cloud computing and mobile platforms to data analytics and social networking. This is coalescing around Salesforce’s Lightning Experience initiative, which stresses connectivity and cross-platform capabilities to help its clients drive greater service to their mobile customers.


    And of course, there is always the possibility that technologies initially aimed at consumer markets will make their way into the enterprise first, kind of like how it worked in the old days. Loyalty360’s Andrew Stillwell says wearables like the Apple Watch and Google Glass are prime candidates for enterprise success. Already, enterprise applications that stress efficiency, safety and security are on the rise even as consumer expectations are fading as industries ranging from manufacturing to health care realize that hands-free or nearly hands-free computing is even more beneficial to workplace productivity than desk-free.

    Many an enterprise has gone down in flames trying to predict the whims of consumer culture, however; so when it comes to adapting personal technologies in the office, it is likely that organizations will be faced with a perpetually moving target.

    This isn’t to say that the attempt should not be made, mind you, because the organization that gets it right will have a significant competitive advantage heading into the next decade.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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