The increasingly blurry line between consumer and business technology can be a boon for smaller companies, provided you watch out for the downside.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

March 14, 2011

3 Min Read

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.

See Also

M86 Launches SMB Security Suite

SinglePlatform Helps SMBs Manage Online Presence

Avaya Plugs SMB Apps Into UC Platform

HP Introduces All In One PC For SMBs

70% Of SMBs Plan To Use Social Media

74% Of SMBs To Increase Cloud Software Spend

Cisco Launches Unified Communications Systems For SMBs

Clickatell Intros Text Messaging Service For SMBs

SMBs Stymied By Virtualization Backup

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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