Mind The Gap Between Business, Consumer Technology - InformationWeek
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Steve Wylie
Steve Wylie
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Mind The Gap Between Business, Consumer Technology

The same old applications and devices just won't cut it in today's fast-paced, multi-dimensional business world.

As consumers of new technology, we have witnessed some truly remarkable innovations over the last decade, from the proliferation of mobile devices and applications to the onslaught of Web-based apps. Then consider the mundane technology tools we get at work -- email, ERP, and the corporate intranet -- and the contrast becomes alarming.

Nowhere is that disparity more glaring than in social software. Many of us are vastly more connected to family, friends -- and, yes, business colleagues -- over sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn than we are over the standard company fare: email. Yet the business world remains fiercely attached to email, even as new generations of consumers find it increasingly irrelevant.

Email is overburdened as our default application for communication and business productivity, and it's failing to keep pace with the heightened performance demands placed on all of us. It has become part communications platform, part workflow application, and part knowledge base. It's not especially good at these functions -- even if it works as a business technology tool.

But complacency just won't do in a fiercely competitive business environment that requires near frictionless information flow, easy collaboration, and quick decision-making.

Microsoft, the dominant provider of enterprise email, spoke openly about its own email-addicted culture at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Conference. Christian Finn, director of collaboration and enterprise social computing, described the company's internal implementation of a "YouTube-like" business application dubbed "Academy Mobile."

Facing the urgent need to keep its large and globally dispersed workforce better informed and connected, Microsoft rolled the video podcast platform out to its 92,000 employees in 671 sites worldwide. Finn cited hard ROI numbers: $7.9 million in saved training costs and $3.5 million in saved travel expenses in the third year of deployment.

Elsewhere, consider the conceptual shift in consumer applications that took place as a result of the Apple App Store, where a mobile application is no longer a stripped-down version of something else but is in fact the fully functioning app. Apple introduced us to a vast (even if closed) marketplace and developer ecosystem for such applications, readily available to users. Yet enterprises are just beginning to explore their own versions of the app store model, a much overdue shakeup.

Global employment services firm Manpower, for example, is adopting this model for distributed application development and deployment, under what it calls a "Solution Store." While Manpower notes challenges with integrating the new apps with its legacy apps, it sees the store accelerating application development for its myriad local markets.

Apple also revolutionized consumer computing with its device form factors and the intuitiveness of its UIs. Think back to the first iPods and iPhones. Was it genius or common sense that tech devices didn't need to be clunky and complicated to use?

But where is Apple in the enterprise? The problem is two-fold. On one hand, most IT organizations have resisted supporting and locking down the contraband products smuggled into their companies. On the other hand, Apple's been no help, treating enterprise-caliber management, security, and integration as an afterthought. If Apple is reluctant to develop enterprise-grade offerings, others will fill the void. Note the enterprise-caliber tablets from Samsung, RIM, and other vendors already pitted against the iPad.

It's easy to criticize the slow enterprise adoption of new technologies. But the fact remains that businesses have unique requirements and constraints that force a more evolutionary approach to technology. Still, businesses have reached that fork-in-the-road moment, especially when it comes to social and mobile.

Steve Wylie is general manager and conference director for UBM TechWeb's Enterprise 2.0 conferences. He can be found on twitter @swylie650.

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