Back in July this year, an interesting post appeared on Microsoft’s small business support website. In it, Microsoft Xbox MVP Marques Lyon wrote that the Xbox One is an “entirely justifiable” business expense for small companies. The post, which was widely reported by leading media outlets such as Forbes, went on to say that “The Xbox One, priced at $499, is an affordable option for small business owners, as there are many features built into the console that could help it rival even the most modest of video conferencing and networking platforms … With the processing power, snap mode, and connection to a large screen that the Xbox One has, this device is capable of going from the ‘break room’ to the ‘board room’
Well, perhaps and perhaps not. However, what the story does illustrate is just how much consumer and enterprise tech are starting to converge. There used to be a time when these were two completely different worlds, but times are changing. Wherever you look, enterprises are adopting technology that first made its debut in the consumer arena – if you are struggling to come up with an example, smartphones are a good place to start.
Of course, there are many who feel that the consumer and enterprise markets are still completely separate, but they are missing a fundamental point. Everyone who works in an enterprise is also a consumer, and they want the type of sleek, user-friendly technology that the consumer market delivers. Sure, the technology needs to be adapted to meet the needs of business – but the key word is adapted, not reinvented. Consumer technology is the way it is because it sells – it’s easy-to-use, low cost and feature-rich. Take a look at enterprise technology, and it’s robust and scalable – but for the most part it’s difficult to learn and even more difficult to use.
Let’s come back to the smartphone for a second. When Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007, it was targeted at the consumer market. BlackBerry owned the enterprise, thanks to its combination of keyboard input and BBM secure messaging. Now it’s six years later, and smartphones are dominating the enterprise landscape. For example, a recent survey of senior executives revealed that the majority of them expect their smartphone will become their primary communications device within a few years – not their laptop. Enterprise software companies such as workflow automation software vendor iDatix.com are introducing smartphone and tablet clients at an ever-increasing rate. Many firms are now even contemplating a “bring your own device” (BYOD) mobility strategy, probably the single strongest indicator that consumer and enterprise technology really are becoming one.
Of course, smartphones still have a way to go before they address all the various requirements that enterprises have – particularly in the area of security. However, the point is that this hasn’t been a barrier to their adoption – consumer technology is just too useful. In fact, progress is now being made to address these enterprise issues. For instance, BlackBerry has recently launched BBM apps for Android and iOS, and Apple has introduced biometric scanners into the iPhone.
Social media is another perfect example of how consumer technologies have crossed over into the enterprise space. Yes, we know that LinkedIn has made a name for itself in the business arena – and was even founded before Twitter or Facebook – but more recent entrants such as Yammer are making enormous inroads with a model that is much closer to what we see in the consumer arena. On the other hand, there are relatively few breakouts from enterprise into consumer – when is the last time you saw a teenager messaging their friends on Lotus Sametime?
Cloud storage is another good example of how consumer technology is penetrating enterprises. While enterprises were wary of this because of security concerns, companies such as Dropbox made major progress in the consumer market. However, the technology was so useful that many employees started to go to extraordinary lengths to use Dropbox while they were at work. Because of this, Dropbox is now actively targeting the enterprise market. Its rival, Box, has 20 million users spread across 180,000 active businesses, thanks to its strategy of wrapping security and scalability around what is still essentially a consumer offering. In fact, Box’s recent dramatic growth seems to be driven by a groundswell of individual users, followed by enterprise adoption. This isn’t about enterprises dictating what will happen – it is about consumers influencing the direction of corporate IT.