How consumer power drives business technology
The growing integration of technology into every aspect of life, whether in the home, office, family, car or recreational arenas, will profoundly impact business technology over the next decade, according to industry analysts at Gartner Inc.
The company predicts that consumer power is set to drive many business technology decisions, with a number of IT-related technologies to be deployed within enterprises having their roots in the consumer space.
At the company's recent Symposium/ITxpo in Cannes, France, the company's analysts predicted that the control of technology will shift from corporations to individuals, effectively "consumerising" business IT and creating an entirely new consumer to business (C2B) as well as the business to consumer (B2C) marketplace.
Two-way street Steve Prentice, vice president and chief of research for Gartner, explained: "What was once a straightforward two way relationship between business and technology has suddenly become complicated by the arrival of a third party - the consumer. Now that the dynamics have changed, the enterprise will struggle to dictate how employees and customers use technology. Products will increasingly be designed for consumers and IT professionals will just have to work out how to use them within the organisation."
According to Gartner, several major social trends - including new working practices, expectations of instant response and greater personalisation - are already having a significant impact on the technology markets, as consumers look to technology to improve choice and lifestyle flexibility. Providers of consumer technologies have been quick to capitalise on this desire as the rapid growth in household broadband connections and proliferation of mobile devices illustrates. Gartner has found that for every one mobile device sold worldwide mainly for business use, more than 20 are sold mainly for consumer use.
Legacy chains? However, bound by the chains of legacy systems, flat budgets and risk-averse management, enterprise IT has not kept up with the pace of change in consumer markets, and is steadily falling further behind.
Prentice warned: "Current corporate applications simply cannot compete with the consumer experience and consequent user expectations. The technology used at home is so sophisticated that it outstrips the vast majority of commercial offerings. As home and office environments continue to merge, the knowledge worker of the future will demand the same level of functionality and flexibility in the workplace that they have got used to at home. When those demands are not met by the enterprise, history shows us that they will find the technologies and tools needed themselves in the consumer market."
Consumer technologies Technologies such as Wi-Fi, smart mobile phones, instant messaging, personal electronic devices, the internet and even the PC itself, as well as consumer software such as Google Desktop and Skype, have steadily infiltrated the enterprise, introduced by technophile employees from their experiences as consumers. These technologies have had an impact on every layer of the enterprise infrastructure, in some cases revolutionising the way businesses operate.
"Ignoring the social context of technology is a recipe for business failure. If organisations continue to dictate what technologies their employees can and cannot use then they risk ignoring innovations that represent significant opportunities in the future, such as 3D graphics, rich media and consumer-oriented websites as platforms," said Prentice, who believes that consumer technologies will provide an opportunity for businesses to streamline overweight IT systems and work toward lower-cost, leaner, more agile IT infrastructures.
Prentice concluded: "This is less of a revolution and more the coming together of a series of evolutionary changes - societal, technological and in the marketplace - at the right time. Some parts of society, especially the knowledge workers, are very open to change. Technology penetration levels and end-user expertise are high. The technology is reliable, inexpensive and effective, and has become good enough to engender significant change in the corporate marketplace."