The increasingly blurry line between consumer and business technology can be a boon for smaller companies, provided you watch out for the downside.
If cash is your king, consider that consumers -- even ga-ga-for-gadget early adopters -- don't pay enterprise prices. They might sometimes pay luxury prices -- Apple's stock value is proof -- but consumers are ultimately individuals with, for the most part, limited purchasing power. SMBs can sympathize: Budget consciousness is standard operating procedure. In a sense, the typical small business and its consumer counterpart are kindred spirits: The smart ones look for value. With the Web enabling greater pricing transparency, it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that more SMBs are buying their PCs at retail. A recent study by research firm Techaisle found that 43% of PCs purchased by SMBs in 2010 were bought at retail or online outlets, marking an 18% decline in the dealer/reseller market.
For bona fide IT needs such as business-duty storage, which has some very expensive options at the upper end of the enterprise market, downward price pressure from consumer-oriented vendors is a good thing for smaller organizations -- provided the product delivers the goods.
Indeed, it is still buyer beware: There are risks in consumerization, especially for SMBs. The first con is, well, cons. Look out for low-end consumer tech masquerading as a "small business solution." Just because it's cheap, doesn't mean it's SMB-worthy -- if it crumbles under business requirements, it's just crummy. I've heard more than one marketer refer to the early days of VoIP in this context. It's a message that bears repeating for vendors that target smaller business customers. "If you try to do one-size-fits-all for consumer and small business, you're probably not going to hit the mark in either place," said McCabe of the SMB Group.
Second, and this one's just a new build on the age-old Minesweeper problem: Don't let the blurring line between consumer and business likewise shift the difference between toy and tool. There might be real productivity advantages in a tablet, for example, but those are wiped out if the user spends half their day on games or other downtime apps.
A third risk is security, and it's poised to explode. As SMBs become increasingly mobile, they're likewise upping the likelihood of IT consumerization -- and the potential pitfalls that come with it. Most newer tablets and smartphones don't seem to adhere to any boundary between business and consumer. Apple is again a prime example. There's no iPad for business; there's just iPad. In fact, an exec at security firm M86 recently told me his company chalks up the mobile security challenge -- pretty much all of it -- to the iPad. There's not yet an easy answer yet; the prudent SMB should at least take heed that every new device on its network creates a potential threat vector.
That's not a reason to avoid consumerization -- just a reminder to embrace it strategically, and with a certain amount of caution. "The bottom line is: [Consumerization] is happening," McCabe said. "These newer devices and solutions are easier -- and more fun, in a lot of cases. The question is more: How do vendors best capitalize on that?"
For savvy SMBs, the answer to that question is a good thing for the bottom line.
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