Blurred lines, as consumer tech swallows delivery of BIG IT

Nice devices, now speak 'enterprise' to me

A decade of “consumerisation” of IT has, according to Gartner, succeeded in shifting the balance of power within organisations — across departments and from hierarchies to individuals.

For IT companies traditionally dominating the B2C market, the opportunities to target the enterprise space looms large. Already consumer tech providers are burrowing into the enterprise and fast becoming staples of the IT fabric.

From Google evolving from search to browsers and Apps targeted predominantly at developers, book retailer Amazon now punting AWS, and Apple going beyond the Mac to push its iPhones and iPads to the enterprise market – the shift is clear, driven by a transformation of end user expectations in the enterprise over the last few years.

“When we log on to software in the enterprise we expect the same easy-to-use interface that we get with Facebook or Twitter,” said head of technology and digital media at M&A advisory firm Results International Julie Langley.

“The large enterprise software groups, such as Microsoft, Oracle and VMware, traditionally don’t have those user experience skills in-house. They don’t understand user experience and design in the same way as the consumer tech vendors.”

At the same time, an explosion in the use of mobile devices and cloud computing is giving traditional enterprise software groups a run for their money; they’re left playing catch up on enterprise mobility skills and pondering the challenges of migrating from a historically on-premise mentality.

“Public cloud — principally Amazon — and hybrid cloud is causing a rethink and gradual change in how IT is consumed,” according to research vice president at analyst firm 451 Research, William Fellows.

“Enterprises are looking for ways to extend the use of cloud across their organisations, beyond individual projects, applications and modelling tasks. Consequently they are seeking suppliers that can bring expertise in running specific workloads or application tasks, whether as SaaS or hosted business process.”

As a result, the stakes are changing for a majority of service providers. “To crack the next wave of cloud buyer opportunity, suppliers will need to raise their IQs to offer a broader catalogue of services,” Fellows adds.

Mike Ni, chief marketing officer at eCommerce provider Avangate, claimed that something called “B2i” (Business to individual) has overtaken both B2B and B2C as a blurring of the boundaries between consumer and enterprise markets has taken hold.

While the sales process for very complex products may not have changed as much as the hype would have us believe, the difference is more likely to be in the way you pay for products.

“Enterprise consumers act as if they are consumer tech buyers. Enterprise software and services are more commonly bought through subscription, trial and freemium business models today. These models originate from how consumers purchase on mobile devices and apps,” Ni explains.

Gordon Fletcher, co-director of the Centre for Digital Business at Salford Business School, says the tipping point for a software decision could be the fact that it’s a service people can get their hands on. “Not just try before you buy but the whole learning curve around it, so there’s a sense of familiarity.”

But, for enterprise IT users more used to dealing with the Microsofts, IBMs and Oracles of this world, how easy or painful has the transition been? Relinquishing control is an obvious challenge facing enterprise level users. Ni says within smart businesses, the relationships between vendor and customer is at an individual level.

“Information weaned from social media as well as forums give businesses an opportunity to understand their customers better,” said Ni.

Meanwhile, other signs of a shift in the customer/supplier sales and support relationship have taken place over recent time. A global partnership struck between Apple and IBM a year ago on mobile made clear Apple’s intention to firmly position itself in the enterprise space. As part of the IBM MobileFirst for iOS agreement, IBM sells iPhones and iPads with industry-specific applications to business clients worldwide.

At the time of the tie-up, Apple chief executive Tim Cook claimed that more than 98 per cent of the Fortune 500 and more than 92 per cent of the Global 500 were using iOS devices in their business. Combining IBM’s big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips would open up a large market opportunity for Apple, Cook added.

For enterprise, the launch of iOS 8 offered improvements in the way users are informed of how their devices are configured, managed or restricted, with expanded security, management and productivity features. Meanwhile, AppleCare for Enterprise provides IT departments and end users with 24/7 assistance from Apple’s customer support group, with on-site service delivered by IBM.

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