Where's the Innovation on the Enterprise Side?
Why has all the recent tech innovation come from consumer-product manufacturers?
Recently, Eric Krapf posted about the Consumerization Canary, in which he challenges the notion that consumer applications and services threaten to overtake--or even eliminate--IT. The fact is, when employees bring their own applications and devices into the enterprise, they often create more work for IT, since the organization must now monitor their use for control and security breaches.
But even more important, as Eric notes, they highlight the pain points users want solved: If your enterprise users are relying on Skype to make long-distance or international calls, you should be asking why. Are those users not getting the necessary telephony capabilities from their enterprise devices? Are they facing budget crunches and looking for a low-cost (or free) alternative? Are they finding the enterprise tools you give them too cumbersome or difficult to use? Once you find the answers to those questions, you can respond accordingly; whether you do so with enterprise-grade or consumer technology will depend on a number of factors relevant to your organization and its top priorities.
But there's another issue raised by the consumerization trend, and I think we who work in enterprise IT overlook it at our peril: Why has all the recent tech innovation come from consumer-product manufacturers, rather than enterprise vendors? Not so long ago, the new ideas in useful IT tools came from the workplace. It wasn't just PCs and other devices that people started using at work and then brought home as costs declined and usage increased. Microsoft Office and other applications set the stage for changing how we managed our personal lives, too, as did workplace services like voicemail, email, and other communications technologies.
Today, the opposite is true. When was the last time you saw a new feature in a communications and collaboration application or service come from an enterprise vendor? Instead, we get Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, et. al. playing catch-up--effectively redesigning capabilities developed for the consumer world so that they better serve the enterprise market. That's necessary work, of course, but it's hardly original.
When I recently asked a product manager in Cisco's WebEx Social team when the enterprise vendors are going to start leading the charge when it comes to new technology, rather than following the trends in consumer apps, services and devices, he didn't really have an answer. For instance, Cisco is very proud of the new "Watch List" within WebEx Social, which highlights status posts, comments and so on that are particularly important to the user, based on specific rules and policies. How, exactly, is that different from Facebook's email notifications and (extremely unpopular) News Feed? It's not.
Of course, there is some innovation happening on the enterprise side, especially in the area of multi-party video conferencing and other back-end network-management issues. But from an end-user perspective, I'm more likely to see truly interesting new apps and services from the companies appealing to me, rather than the company for which I work. And that could prove to be a serious problem for IT and its enterprise vendors in the not-too-distant future.