Apple announced the iPad two years ago and began shipping in April 2010. In less than two years, the rapidity and scale of the shock to the PC marketplace from the iPad has been stunning. The PC market trends in 2011 show PCs of all types (netbook, notebook, desktop) are being cannabilized by tablet sales. And iPad sales (15.4M in 4Q11) are now equivalent to PC desktop sales. We saw desktop PCs shipments slowing the last several years due to the earlier advent of notebooks and then netbooks, but now stagnating and even dropping in great part due to the iPad. With the release of the iPad 3 just around the corner (next week), these impacts will accelerate. And while the release of Windows 8 and new PC ultrabooks (basically PC versions of the MacBook Air) could possibly cause improved shipments in 2012, the implications of this consumer shift are significant for corporate technology.
Just as IT managers used to determine what mobile devices their employees used (and thus invariably Blackberry) and now companies are adopting a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) approach to mobile, IT managers will need to shift to not just accommodating iPads as an additional mobile device, but should move to a full-fledged BYOD for client computing for their knowledge workers. Let them decide if they need a tablet, ultrabook, or laptop. Most front office staff will also be better served by a mobile or tablet approach (consider the retail staff in Apple’s stores today). Importantly, IT will need to develop applications first and second for the internet and tablets, and only for traditional PCs for back office and production workers.
The implications of this will cause further shock to the marketplace. Just as in the mobile device marketplace where the traditional consumer vendors were impacted first by the new smart phones **(i.e., Nokia impacted first by Apple and Android) and then the commercial mobile vendor** (Blackberry), PC vendors are now seeing their consumer divisions severely impacted with modest growth in commercial segments. But front office and knowledge workers will demand the use of tablets first and air books or ultrabooks second. Companies will make this shift because their employees will be more productive and satisfied and it will cost the company less. And as the ability to implement and leverage this BYOD approach increases, the migration will become a massive rush, especially as front office systems convert. And the commercial PC segment will follow what already is happening in the broader consumer segment.
As an IT manager you should ensure your shop is on the front edge of this transition as much as possible to provide your company advantage. The tools to deploy, manage, and implement secure sessions are rapidly maturing and are already well-proven **. Many companies started pilots or small implementations in that past year in such areas as providing iPads instead of 5 inch thick binders for their boards ** or giving senior executives iPads to use in meetings instead of printed presentations. But the big expansion has been allowing senior managers and knowledge workers to begin accessing corporate email and intranets via their own iPads from home or when traveling. And with the success of these pilots, companies are planning broader rollouts and are adopting formal BYOD policies for laptops and pads.
So how do you ensure that your company stays abreast of these changes? If you have not already piloted corporate email and intranet access from smart phones and pads, get going. Look also to pilot the devices for select groups such as your board and senior executives. This will enable you to get the support infrastructure in place and issues worked out before a larger rollout.
Work with your legal and procurement team to define the new corporate policy on employee devices. Many companies help solve this issue by providing the employee a voucher covering the cost of the device purchase but the employee is the owner. And because the corporate data is held in a secure partition on the device and can be wiped clean if lost or stolen, you can meet your corporate IT security standards.
More importantly, IT must adjust its thinking about what the most vital interface is for internal applications. For more than a decade, it has been the PC with perhaps an internet interface. Going forward, it needs to be an internet interface, possibly with a smartphone and iPad app. Corporate PC client interfaces (outside of dedicated production applications such as the general ledger for the finance team or a call center support application) will be one of casualties of this shift from PCs.
If you are looking for leaders in the effort, I would suggest that government agencies, especially in the US, have been surprisingly agile in delivering their reference works for everything from the state legal code to driving rules and regulations on iPad applications in the Itunes store. I actually think the corporate sector is trailing the government in this adoption. How many of you actually have their HR policies and procedures in an iPad application that can be downloaded? Or a smart phone app to handle your corporate travel expenses? Or a front office application that enables your customer facing personnel to be as mobile and productive as an Apple retail employee?
And ensure you build the infrastructure to handle the download and version management of these new applications. You can configure your own corporate version of a iTunes store that enables users to self-provision and easily download apps to their devices just as they download Angry Birds today. This again will provide a better experience for the corporate user at reduced cost. And the leading senior infrastructure client managers today are looking to further exploit this corporate store and later extend this infrastructure and download approach to all their devices. This is just another example of a product or approach, first developed for the consumer market, cross-impacting the commercial market.
As for those desktop PCs, where will they be in 2 to 3 years? They will still be used by production workers (call centers, back office personnel, etc) but they will be more and more virtualized so the heavy computing is done in the data center and not the PC. And desktop PCs will be a much smaller proportion of your overall client devices. This will have significant implications on your client software licenses (e.g. Windows Office, etc) and you should begin considering now how your contracts will handle this changing situation. And perhaps just beyond that timeframe, it is possible that we will consider traditional desktops to be similar to floppy drives today — an odd bit of technology from the past.
Best, Jim Ditmore
* for those of you who read my occasional post on InformationWeek, I have updated my article that was originally posted there on Feb 14.