More than 100 million people in Western Europe will buy a smartphone this year. Within minutes of opening the package they will be setting up connections to mail servers, downloading third-party applications and synchronising music and games with their existing online life.
Who’s in charge here? Consumers driving corporate technology purchases
Ten years ago these kinds of tasks would have required the services of a full-time information technology (IT) department. Now they’re being done by people who’ve never been close to one. Not only that, but many of those consumers will be connecting to cloud computing services for their documents or music. That’s a shift many IT departments are still hesitant to embrace – beyond basic email services.
Why are ordinary employees adapting to technology faster than their companies? Credit the march of Moore’s Law, which says that chip processing power doubles about every 12 to 18 months without increasing the chip’s cost. That means today’s smartphones have roughly the same processing power as PCs of ten years ago. Under Moore’s Law devices have become faster and smaller at the same time. It has made computing cheaper, more democratic and more personalised – qualities that are as important to consumers as businesses. Since people outnumber businesses and always will, individual buyers are now spurring the creation of a much larger overall market. As price and capability reach a certain level, consumers become the drivers of technology innovation. But as consumers take the lead, they are pitching headlong into issues about security, privacy and simplicity of use, that businesses approach warily.
“What’s happening now is the consumerisation of enterprise.” That’s the buzz phrase Sanjay Jha, the chief executive of Motorola Mobility, used in an interview at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “Consumers are now responsible for 75 per cent of all the technology devices being used in enterprises, and consumers make decisions on the basis of consumer features as well as enterprise features.” That bottom-up decision-making causes disruption, Jha says. First, it means that the company has to acknowledge products that employees bring in. Second, employees will discover that they are never out of the company’s reach. It’s similar to the change that mobile phones wreaked on business lives in the 1980s and 1990s, but magnified.
The third change happens elsewhere, in the design of the devices and the software that powers them. They have to become simpler to use, because the person holding them doesn’t have IT support to rely on. Complex user interfaces cannot survive in a world where there are more smartphones being sold every quarter than PCs. That means that good design – from interfaces to features – becomes critically important.
Another influence driving the consumerisation of technology is the rise of cloud computing. Cloud-based computer services have made it easy for start-ups to create web applications that match – or exceed – the capabilities of in-house systems. When people find that the systems and web pages they’re using at home and on the train are more user-friendly than the ones they use at work, they will demand technology upgrades.
In observing his staff testing various tablets and smartphones, Dave Codack, vice president of employee technology and network services at TD Financial Group in Toronto, Canada, saw consumerisation of technology in action. “The enterprise is not dictating technology with these devices,” he told Computerworld. “The revolt is coming from the end-user community.” But, Codack says, the consumer and the enterprise may find themselves at odds on security: “The challenge for the enterprise technology organisation is to balance the rapid speed of consumerisation adoption with the security and privacy agenda it is mandated to preserve.”
Corporate and individual consumers want smarter devices, cleverer apps, faster speeds – and more security at the same time. The EU considers online privacy and protection of personal data to be “fundamental rights”, to be protected “using the widest range of means”. That currently includes sanctions such as fines or cancellation of licences, and the application of “Privacy by Design”, which requires data and privacy protection. But Moore’s Law is still in effect, with processing speeds increasing faster than the EU can implement these regulations or create new ones.
What happens next? Faster connectivity. Ten years ago, most Europeans were on dial-up connections – at least at home. Now, the vast majority have broadband. Smartphone connection speeds vary from zero to superfast. That’s sure to even out too with the approach of faster, simpler, cheaper Long Term Evolution (LTE) systems, or next-generation high-speed mobile Internet (also known as 4G). These new systems could offer speeds of up to 100 megabits per second and are being rolled out in several European countries. And with that, the consumerisation of technology should be complete.
This article was originally published in Futures Magazine. Click here to view or download the full issue.