Corporates urged to embrace consumer tech

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Corporates urged to embrace consumer tech

Gartner examines how 'consumerisation' will help companies.

Corporate attitudes to consumer-led technologies extending into the enterprise must shift from "unavoidable nuisance" to "opportunity for additional innovation", according to Gartner.

The analyst firm predicts that employees will continue to push consumer technologies into the enterprise, particularly in areas such as personal productivity and communications.

"By embracing and leveraging employee experimentation and experience with consumer technologies, enterprises can enjoy a significant addition to the resources they can apply to evaluating innovation," said Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner fellow.

Technologies that initially targeted, and were adopted by, consumers have long made an impact in corporate IT, from PCs to today's invasion of the enterprise by consumer-grade instant messaging (IM) and desktop search products.

"In the emerging world of 'permanent beta' innovation led by web-native companies such as Google, the dominant approach is to throw a new capability out to potential users, see what they do with it, then figure out how to monetise it," Fenn said.

"This fertile breeding ground enables a raw idea to be refined rapidly and allows many applications for a new capability to be explored and evaluated in parallel, making it increasingly likely that significant new functionality relevant to enterprises will first arise in the consumer world."

The analyst noted that, in some cases, a technology may have been used in niche areas of enterprise IT, but may not spread broadly until widespread consumer adoption drives down the price.

However, not all classes of enterprise IT are likely to be affected equally by the consumer-first trend.

The areas where most innovation will occur will be those relevant to individuals and small workgroups, including personal productivity, communications and social networking, and programming and development tools.

"The flood of consumer-led technologies into the enterprise is not going to subside," said Fenn. "To fully realise the benefits, IT must embrace these technologies as an ongoing strategy rather than on a case-by-case basis."

Gartner has identified the next round of consumer-led innovations and the timing of when these innovations are likely to have an observable effect on revenue or internal spending and processes.

NEXT THREE YEARS:

Web Platforms

The use of web-based application services will start in the area of personal productivity, in particular collaborative authoring, and spread to enterprise applications.

Just as 'mashups' use third-party data, presentation and development tools to create original functionality, enterprises will increasingly benefit from the data and application services provided by non-traditional enterprise providers, such as Google, Yahoo and Amazon.

Community Communication Platforms

Enterprise users have been accustomed to communicating through private 'channels', such as telephone, email or IM, and attempts to move to a shared collaboration space have, for the most part, failed.

Highly successful consumer community sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Cyworld, operate under the opposite assumption that postings and communications are public and visible by default, unless you specify otherwise. In the collaboration space, the migration of alternative operating assumptions such as these will be as important as specific functionality.

Desktop Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing to the desktop will continue to grow during the next few years, spurred on by IM, desktop collaboration and the casual and more frequent use of videoconferencing as a click from the desktop.

Portable Personalities

Several vendors offer the ability to store the entire image of a PC workspace onto a portable storage medium (such as a USB drive or an iPod) and have it temporarily run on a different machine, removing all traces of itself when the storage is removed.

A common usage pattern is for bringing home environments (i.e. incorporating favourite but non-standard applications) to work, and to bring work environments home. Like IM, this falls into the class of technology that users will embrace on their own, and that enterprises must examine for security or licensing issues.

THREE TO FIVE YEARS:

Virtual Worlds

Although currently over hyped in relation to their near-term value for most organisations, 3D virtual worlds, such as Second Life, will play a role in marketing and branding (and in some cases corporate applications involving collaborative design) and other types of remote collaboration.

Green IT

Enterprises will also be affected by changing employee expectations driven by societal trends, including an expectation of environmentally friendly business practices, or green IT. This will affect IT purchasing decisions and data centre design, and also drive a need for additional detailed data and reporting about an enterprise's carbon footprint.

User Interface Technologies

A number of user interface technologies are gaining traction first in the consumer world, and are then likely to migrate to the business world. Adoption is being driven by lower prices in technologies such as large screen displays, commercialising new capabilities (such as the Nintendo Wii as a 3D controller) and ease of use (such as the routine use of videoconferencing).

FIVE YEARS PLUS:

Augmented Reality

Used for many years in 'hands-busy' niche applications, such as industrial maintenance, augmented reality provides an overlay of relevant digital information by automatically sensing the physical location and orientation of the user (for example, using GPS).

Routine availability of location-based sensing and augmented reality will lead to new enterprise applications such as location-sensitive and context-sensitive information, and alerts presented as a manager walks through a manufacturing plant.

Seamless Work/Life Systems

A second societal trend will be the need for employers to provide technology environments that support the blurring of work and home life, for example, systems that support, but keep distinct, personal and business communications and spending.
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