IT Reels as Consumer Tech Rocks the Enterprise

By Paula Klein, TechWeb, published March 15, 2011

When the first iPad was unveiled a year ago, few thought it would be part of a stampede of consumer technologies into the enterprise — especially, CIOs.

But as we’ve learned, Apple’s original model and now its second one-pound tablet that fits in a large purse and offers high-quality, super-fast video and graphics, full keyboard, and all the communication features and style of an iPhone, have hit the workplace hard. Ready or not, businesses are dealing with the impact.

New data just released by ChangeWave Research — based on a February survey of 1,600 business executives who control IT spending — shows that 9 percent are now using tablets, up from 7 percent last quarter. A full 16 percent, nearly twice last quarter’s number, expect to have them in place by midyear. [See charts] And 80 percent of those tablets are Apple’s. “We have been tracking this market for years,” says vice president of research Paul Carlton, “and this explosion is highly unusual.” The trends are “leaking over from consumers and cutting across the enterprise. The corporate tablet market is very powerful, and that has big implications for PC manufacturers and for businesses.”

Business Revolution

Others agree. “There’s a business revolution going on,” says Frank Eliason, Senior VP for Social Media at Citibank, and it’s not just in tablets. Smartphones, wikis and mobile app file sharing are becoming the norm. “People are more connected now than ever, and businesses have to respond and work within their corporate regulations to allow it,” Eliason says.

Eliason, who was a key social media evangelist at Comcast, joined Citibank last year to help the massive financial services firm take advantage of Enterprise 2.0 tools and consumer technologies. Acknowledging the challenges, he says, “Some banking regulations go back to the 1930s. We have to build partnerships, and we have to change the way people think.”

And key among those people are CIOs. While Eliason reports to Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso and a team focused primarily on external mobile applications, Eliason’s expertise is tapped for internal projects as well. “We can’t have silos” or turf battles, he says, “I partner with legal and IT to help find the best solutions” for employees as well as customers. Eliason sees his role as an educator who can explain the benefits of social media to business leaders. But it’s also “imperative to listen to what’s going on” inside the business as well as outside, he says, and to understand products, processes and the ramifications of introducing new technologies and building communities with customers. “That’s where the CIO, legal and compliance can be most helpful,” he says. It’s a difficult balance, Eliason says, but “banking is changing” and there’s no turning back.

Eran Barak, global head of community strategy for Thomson Reuters Sales & Trading Strategic Business Unit, leads social media and community initiatives for financial market clients. Businesses like his are building social functions into their systems to offer robust, user-friendly services.

For example, Thomson Reuters recently launched Eikon, a business-to-business market data platform for its financial services customers, with built-in collaborative services. The platform offers interactive, social media tools that allow subscribers to edit and collaborate with others’ work, chat, “follow” each other, and comment on financial data in real time. “It’s a natural extension of a business’s workflow,” Barak says. Content includes both syndicated data and user-generated data hosted at Thomson Reuters. “We’re finally seeing integrated solutions,” he says. The platform offers access to more than 150,000 users in 7,000 global organizations.

Although the platform was built by Barak’s business unit, the IT operations staff oversees security as well as compliance and storage for the program. Additionally, the technical staff helps the business side address concerns, such as security and data access, expressed by customers, and they recommend standards to follow, he says.

IT’s Dilemma

Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat, understands the dilemma CIOs face with consumer devices that an organization may not always sanction but must support. “Every time a new device comes in the door, it’s an IT nightmare.” Just when many businesses standardized on BlackBerrys, for instance, iPhones poured in. Besides security, McGregor says, CIOs are looking for the ROI and business benefits. “When business units bypass IT, it doesn’t eliminate the risks,” he says.

Tablets are particularly troublesome because they fit between smartphones and PCs but have the full capabilities of neither. They aren’t good as communication devices or for content creation, he says. In the enterprise, tablets fare better as “access devices for a remote salesperson, for example,” yet security is a “huge concern.” Unless IT can store corporate data in private clouds and can keep it partitioned on tablets, security “will have to be an even bigger push going forward,” in McGregor’s view.

Nevertheless, he also says that consumer devices are “on a tear right now in the enterprise and consumers are driving IT industry innovation and competition.” Corporate policies are changing, but much more slowly than the technology.

Eliason at Citibank says that the burden for integration, security, compliance and scalability is shifting to vendors, and there is some fatigue among enterprise buyers. He is evaluating systems from Hearsay, Socialware and Actiance (formerly FaceTime), to connect more seamlessly with customers, but overall, “I’m tooled out,” he says. “I’m looking for the right investment that will last for a while. We will partner with providers that understand the enterprise market and are willing to reconsider their offerings to our needs. We have to make methodical, thoughtful decisions.”

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