Consumers Drive IT

The focus on consumer tech might spell good news for corporate IT.

It was just like old times. There they were—Craig, Carly and, of course, Bill, standing on stage in Las Vegas and proselytizing about all the ways we will benefit (really soon!) from their great new technologies. Why, it was enough to bring a smile to the face of any business technology worker.

Except, of course, for the fact that none of them was talking about business technology. Yep, it looks like we business techies are now second-class citizens in the eyes of many of the companies that weve supported and built up for so long.

Comdex is dead, along with pretty much every other big business technology show. Its now the International Consumer Electronics Show that gets all the bigwigs to head to Vegas to show off their new stuff for—you got it—consumers.

Can you really blame them, though? After all, the consumer marketplace is much cooler than the business market. And you know all these companies are looking at Apple and its success with the iPod and thinking, "That could have been us!"

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about Apples new flash-based iPod.

Of course, weve all seen this before. It seems as if every few years, the business technology companies look over at the consumer side of the aisle, see the millions of customers there and start drooling.

But while theyre looking across the aisle, they may want to look down at all the casualties from previous attempts by business technology companies to take on the consumer electronics giants. Face it, even Microsoft couldnt succeed at taking on Sony. (If it had been any other technology company behind the Xbox, we would probably be writing the companys obituary just about now.)

The wannabe consumer technology companies will most likely say that this time will be different. Well see about that.

But, for now, what does this renewed love affair with consumers mean for us jilted business users? I think it will bring both good and bad results.

On the plus side, well most likely benefit from many of the consumer innovations. One need only look around any modern office to see many technologies in use that were initially seen as consumer-only. Instant messaging has become an indispensable tool for many businesses, for example, and blogs are being used increasingly on corporate intranets and portals. The push for bigger (and bigger) drives for MP3 players has benefited smart phones, jump drives and PDAs, and increased broadband usage has helped almost all online businesses.

But because these technologies were designed with consumers in mind, they bring additional challenges to IT managers.

For example, most IM clients lack security features; sensitive or private company and customer data can all too easily be taken off-site via the giant flash drives in all manner of new devices; and unsecured home systems on broadband pipes have made viruses and worms that much more effective.

The benefits and drawbacks to the consumer push apply to the technology vendors, too. By looking in new directions and applying new technologies, the consumer push helps energize companies that had been in an innovation rut. This can result in better products across an entire line. Of course, the decision to take on the likes of Sony can also cause lots of pain and losses that may result in the shutdown or stagnation of the business products on which we all rely.

So what can we business techies do? I advise keeping a close eye on all these new technologies. You may not be able to keep all of them out of your environment—and, in some cases, you shouldnt—so you should plan on ways to secure and manage them with the least amount of disruption possible. This may mean that you will need to play, er, I mean work, with them yourself (strictly for research purposes, of course).

Were all business technologists, but at heart were geeks who love this kind of stuff. So let your consumer side enjoy the renewed attention. At the same time, your business side can work on figuring out a way to do something useful with that media center PC.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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