Bring Your Own Device: How Consumer Products Are Impacting IT

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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One of the more interesting data points that came out of Apple’s recent earning report is that the iPad is becoming a major hit in the enterprise. Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that virtually every Fortune 500 and Global 500 company is already using the iPad in their businesses and adding more each quarter.

When Apple introduced the iPad in January 2010, I’m pretty sure they did not see the iPad as being a business product. In fact, I asked two of their executives about this at the time and they kept pointing out that the iPad was designed for consumers and its focus was on content consumption. They emphasized its use for browsing, watching videos and listening to music but never suggested it could be used for productivity.

But soon after the iPad was released, software developers started creating productivity tools and consumers started using them at work. The iPad is quickly becoming a serious business tool.

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There are really two important trends behind a consumer product like the iPad finding its way into business. From a big-picture point of view, this is called the consumerization of IT.  It’s loosely defined as business users going out and buying their own laptops, smartphones or tablets and then bringing these devices to their IT directors and asking them to support them so that they can also use them at work.

The other trend is a twist on this theme called “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) to work.

In the past, most IT directors purchased PCs or smartphones for the users they supported — they would buy them in huge quantities and get important service and support agreements as part of their purchases. And IT directors could add their own security and corporate firewalls to keep company information safe and secure.

But over the last five years, business users starting buying their own PCs, Macs or smartphones and then taking them to their IT directors and asking them to add corporate services to them so they could use their own consumer-driven products at work. At first, IT directors fought this idea, but as more and more personal devices started infiltrating the offices, these IT directors eventually gave in.  Now with tablets becoming hits with consumers, they too are being dragged into IT directors’ offices and asked to be supported with corporate apps and security, too.

To get a better handle on how consumer products are really impacting IT, I recently spoke with Oliver Bussmann, the CIO of software giant SAP. He is known for his aggressive thinking on the role of consumer products in IT and in fact, he has already installed 14,000 iPads, 8,000 iPhones and 20,000 BlackBerries inside SAP.

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He told me that as soon as he saw the iPad, he knew it would become an important tool for his workforce. The first iPad was introduced at the beginning of January of 2010 and by August, 2010 he had the infrastructure in place to support it within the company.

The reason he could do this so fast is because SAP had purchased a company called Sybase, which had mobile device management (MDM) software called Afaria. This helped Bussmann manage smartphones and iPads remotely: He could upload apps, monitor security and manage them whether they were on-site or out in the field. He told me that because of this software and his own tools, he was able to deploy 3,000 iPads to their salesforce in four weeks. Afaria is just one of many MDM tools available to companies to help manage their mobile devices.

What I found really interesting is that Bussmann has made the decision to be device agnostic. That means that his users can bring in an Apple device, Android device or any other device and he will support it. He literally has architected his back-end tools to support the consumer products that end up in their business setting.

Bussmann also told me that he’s spoken to over 100 CIOs in the course of his work and his first message to them is to keep a close eye on the consumer market. He says that more and more consumer products are being created that people learn to use at home and then want to have adapted for use in the office. And he believes that “consumerization drives innovation.”

He also made a prediction for me: According to Bussmann, “Mobile apps and real-time information will drive new behaviors for decision making.” Getting analytical data and corporate information in what he calls “glanceable data” translates into fast decision making. This is why he’s so bullish on tablets. He sees them as ideal tools for his workers to carry with them so they have access to information they need at any time to speed up their decision-making processes.

Smartphones are already dominating the consumer market for cell phones, and since communication is so critical in business, it makes sense that these consumer products got quick traction inside enterprises. But who knew that when Apple introduced the iPad, it could possibly re-shape the workplace. From the examples Bussmann shared with me, it appears that tablets could become some of the most important decision making tools inside businesses at all levels.

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Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.