Tablets and smartphones are the disruptive change lever

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No – I refuse to write about the Apple iPad 2, not because I don’t like it, I do like it, but for two reasons, the first and most important being because there will be plenty of other posts about it. Second, I had a pretty disgusting experience outside an Apple Store in Brandon, Florida […]

No – I refuse to write about the Apple iPad 2, not because I don’t like it, I do like it, but for two reasons, the first and most important being because there will be plenty of other posts about it. Second, I had a pretty disgusting experience outside an Apple Store in Brandon, Florida where they cynically manipulated as many people as possible, more than 600 I would guess, to be part of ‘the launch event’ all the while knowing they only had around 75 units in store.

So instead I want to look at the bigger picture of the change that the iPad is a big part of, but increasingly tablets from all manufacturers will be involved in. The reports on shipments in 2010 all tell the same story; an incredible increase in both smartphones and tablets, and a corresponding slow down in the conventional PC business. Smartphone sales exceeded even the optimistic forecasts of the experts with a 74% increase from the previous year based on a battle between Apple and Google Android for supremacy at the expense of the traditional leaders of Nokia and RIM Blackberry.

It was the same story for tablets with 17.4 million units sold in 2010 led by Apple, but once again with Google Android in hot pursuit. Predictions for shipments from all analysts suggest that the tablet market will continue its exponential growth curve to the extent that even the usually cautious Gartner thinks that by 2013 there will be as many tablets in use in an enterprise as PCs with a profound impact on the IT environment. On February 7th as part of the Gartner ‘First Thing Monday’ series under the title ‘The Digital Natives are Restless, The Impending Revolt against the IT Nanny State’ (oddly enough this emailed newsletter doesn’t seem to have a url)Gartner analyst Jim Shepherd stated;

“I am regularly hearing middle managers and even senior executives complaining bitterly about IT departments that are so focussed on the global rollout of some monolithic solution that they have no time for new and innovative technologies that could have an immediate impact on the business. They’re fed up with IT’s refusal to acknowledge the technical sophistication of today’s average user …………. They (the users) regularly purchase, deploy and manage a wide variety of computing and communications technology in their private lives, but at work………”

Forrester quite simply states that 2011 will be the year of the tablet listing all of the new tablets planned to ship in 2011. Such a significant number of units in circulation has to have an impact and act as an accelerator to ‘consumer IT’ as more and more users expect to use their devices for business.

Harvard Business Review argues the issue also sits with the IT industry itself citing from its 2010 book entitled ‘Business Model Innovation’ which includes a chapter by Clayton Christensen famous for his work on disruptive innovation and taken from his work on ‘riding the wave’.  Clayton points out that the lessons of PC disruption are just as applicable to today’s disruption. At the heart of its view is that market leading enterprises fail by continuing to follow the wishes and comments of their current customers/clients and by so doing fail to understand and engage with the buyers of the next market wave. In the late 80s this led to continued support for the data centre manager who opposed the introduction of PCs and allowed unknown newcomers such as Compaq (now merged with HP), Dell, Microsoft and Cisco to take over the market at the expense of the then leaders DEC, Data General, Prime, Wang etc.

Today the claim is that the continued focus on the CIO by current leaders, who all too often holds the view on user driven adoption of tablets and ‘XaaS’ as something to try to stop, is allowing new players to grab the new and rapidly emerging market wave by selling to business managers and business users. In the case of the tablet and the smartphone the new competitors leading the wave are clearly Apple and Google, and the traditional PC suppliers are all struggling to get to market tablet PCs or compete with the revolution in the mobile phone market. But it’s not just about hardware. The software market is changed by this shift just as much and the rise of Google Android as the operating system of choice is strongly linked to this change.

The business user-driven adoption of the PC was initially driven by the spreadsheet, and then by networked information sharing leading to the dominance of Windows and Intel. This consistent easy to use client interface played a significant part in the rise of client-server based systems, a new wave of enterprise applications including ERP, business model innovation around business process re-engineering, and the need for a new approach to supporting services for system integration.

Connection to existing enterprise software applications, other than email, is a secondary consideration for most tablet (and a smartphone) users. Instead a whole new ecosystem has been created around apps, or more correctly ‘services’, being chosen and downloaded by users on a pay per use basis. Today the whole IT industry is faced with the challenge of the disruptive change that the tablet/smartphone model is creating in parallel to the existing IT landscape. These changes include a new wave of innovation around business models, the shift to browser-clouds as the technology model, a whole new edge of business apps around people and event interactions including social CRM, social networks, real-time decision support, business process orchestration, etc, and of course a new generation of supporting services.

The adoption of tablets, and new generation smartphones, are not an annoying distraction for the CIO, instead they are well on track to becoming a key component in creating an entirely new business technology wave. If this post seems something of a ‘blast’ that because it is meant to be a wake up call for CIOs to ‘manage’ and enable this transition  for the good of their enterprise’s future success in new competitive conditions; and not to deny it by claiming that it’s a threat for the current enterprise  based on the role of client-server IT.

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