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1/23/2011
09:15 PM
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Control Over End User Devices: Irrelevant?

I spent some time today preparing to update our "end user device" analytics report. But it could be that what enterprises choose for their end user devices is becoming more and more irrelevant.

I spent some time today preparing to update our "end user device" analytics report. But it could be that what enterprises choose for their end user devices is becoming more and more irrelevant.Honestly, talking about fat PCs, Win32 apps, and (I say this very softly) even anti-virus seems so very 20th century. When devices like iPad have demonstrably displaced significant portions of PC sales, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there are serious changes afoot. Enterprises aren't immune to these change factors:

  • Cloud. It's not the only factor, but cloud service providers are doing a pretty darn good job at making sure that, unlike Java, they write once and deploy anywhere. Service providers like Dropbox are making sure that their services are available on everything from Linux, to Mac, to PC, to mobile phones. They, unlike enterprise IT, have a stake in the game for their services to be everywhere. They're not going to allow something silly like the platform that the user has to get in the way of their service.

  • IT "consumerization". Enterprises are going to have to come to terms with the fact that those meddling kids who have just entered the workforce have better tech at home than they do in the workplace. In the old days, we used to ooh and ah over the awesome laptops that those lucky executives would bring home. Nowadays? They're pieces of crap compared to what an 18-year-old is toting, and even if they've got the juice, the officially sanctioned apps, more often than not, are Neanderthal.

  • New economics. Nobody has any discretionary income ... except, judging from Apple's stock, consumers. From all indicators, most enterprises will continue to have an uphill resource battle for the foreseeable future. Should enterprises continue to put a huge emphasis on provisioning and securing end user devices -- at more than 20% of IT spend, for a quarter of the enterprises in our last research? (Yes, you read that right, that was a fifth of their spend -- on PCs!) Or, should they give up, and strategically wage the battle for security at the core of the enterprise, instead of at the edge?
  • The focus on end user devices is all about span of control. But, guess what, sports fans? IT's span of control has changed over the years, and we can continue to expect it to change. Complete control (and complete security) is an illusion. (Just look at the TSA's latest 'security theater'.)

A complete (well, at least you think it's complete) span of control may be comforting, but risk management demands that you consider the cost of security as well as the probable benefits. It may be that the cost of this span of control -- from the data center to the PC -- is a bill that enterprises no longer want to foot.

And, frankly, given advances in how end user apps are written and how higher security users get authenticated, that span of control may not even be necessary. We'll look at this more in our forthcoming report, but in the meanwhile, your feedback on the relevance of enterprise end user devices is most welcome.

Jonathan Feldman has written, taught and consulted extensively on IT innovation topics and is an award-winning IT executive and analyst. Write to him at jf@feldman.org, or http://twitter.com/_jfeldman.

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