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Opinion: The new iPad and the impact of mobile devices behind IT’s Iron Curtain

Mike Anderson, CEO of Chelsea Apps Factory, tells us why the coming together of home and business technology means we might get some fun apps to play with at work.

You’ll all know that Apple has just released the new iPad with a sharper screen, a camera with advanced optics, a new processor which will significantly boost the device’s graphics capabilities and, for those prepared to pay (and live in the right region) a super-fast 4G (or 3.5G) wireless data connection.

All of this also means that the next generation of apps will look and feel better (Apple previewed several such apps in its March 7th announcement) and there’s no doubt that app developers everywhere—including Yours Truly—are looking forward to getting to grips with the new hardware.

Although the upgrades Apple has announced are ostensibly aimed at wooing home users, and the company will primarily market the new device to those users, there’s no doubt that the recent announcement will also have an impact in the business world. That’s because more and more of us are taking our personal devices to work with us these days (rather than leaving them lying on the arms of our couches every morning). More importantly, when we get to work with our devices we’re not just leaving them in their over-priced cases – we’re using them to take notes, get back on emails, share files and generally make our corporate lives easier and more convenient.

If you’re someone who takes their smartphone/tablet computer to work to use it for work, you may be surprised to learn that you’re part of a trend which, unlike the new iPad, actually has its own name – the ‘consumerisation of IT’ (or the ‘consumerization of the enterprise’ if you’re a US-based reader). It’s a trend which began with the launch of the first iPhone in January 2007 and steadily gained traction as consumers began to realise that the user experience offered by the iPhone and its predecessors was markedly better than that offered by the devices given to them by their colleagues in IT.

Consumerisation has been difficult for IT professionals to manage (you’ve got to feel sorry for them, especially after they’ve been stigmatised by the brilliant Channel 4 sitcom, The IT Crowd) – giving all sorts of untried and untested devices access to systems isn’t obviously compatible with keeping data safe. Originally, a lot of IT departments tried to stop consumerisation from becoming an issue by banning personal devices from the workplace and preventing them from doing things like syncing with corporate email. That strategy has met with mixed results and a significant number of businesses are now actively seeking ways to allow the usage of personal devices and engage with their users. And even if you’re not planning on using your tablet computer or smartphone in the office without your boss’s permission, you may find yourself given one by your company in the near future anyway. According to Forrester analysts, CIOs are going to spend $10bn on iPads for their workforces in 2012, meaning that a hell of a lot of tablets are going to be coming in through the front-door as well as the back.

The use of apps in business

This is obviously good news for the apps industry, which is finding more and more ways to help businesses make use of the exciting new hardware they’re packing. I’ll give one example from experience. We’ve recently finished the first stage of a project with a pharmaceutical company which gave its whole sales-force iPads. We worked with them to develop an app which their sales-people used in ‘stand-up’ meetings with hospital officials and doctors. The app incorporated all of their documentation as well as video and other media so it had an instant impact on the amount of time potential customers were willing to spend talking to sales-people (such is the effect of a compelling presentation). More importantly, the sales-team’s managers were able to see the ‘route’ their most successful team members took through the app (i.e. the order they viewed certain pages in) and use that to improve the performance of their sales-people across the board. The combination of consumerisation with cleverly designed, secure, and user-friendly apps is obviously a very powerful one and something increasing numbers of businesses are looking to take advantage of.

The distinctions we used to rely on are fading and blurring. The idea that corporate technology is grey and boring while ‘home’ technology is colourful and exciting is no longer useful. IT’s iron curtain has lifted, two previously distinct cultures are merging, and everyone is benefitting.



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