Aug 08, 2013

    Business technology has its start in homes

    WHAT is the biggest recent change in business technology? Cloud computing? Big Data? Not for me. I believe the real disruption is simpler. Today, you have better information technology at home than in the office.

    Look around at your laptop, smartphones and tablet; your gaming system and digital video recorder, your cameras and fitness trackers. Even business systems at smart companies cannot compete with our consumer devices.

    This trend, the consumerisation of technology, has enormous implications for the biggest technology companies, as well as potential for the government to connect with citizens.

    Swiping your office smart card in the morning and logging onto the corporate network, you downgrade your technology experience. If you want ease of use or great connectivity, or you must navigate and interpret complex information, stay at home.

    Surprising? It is really quite natural, given the pace of development and falling consumer prices. For example, one company I know spent more than US$1 million on office-to-office video conferencing.

    Just two years later, many employees use personal US$50 webcams with their favourite video-chat service for quick international meetings. If they don't like the service, or they want a fancier camera, they switch quickly and cheaply at their own expense.

    Unlike employees, the IT department cannot change as quickly because of the company's huge investment.

    This trend started with smartphones. Corporations struggled to manage the new technology, but users simply bought their own. We called it Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and now most major companies have well-documented BYOD strategies.

    Meanwhile, BYOD has gone beyond devices. Users bring their own software, with popular apps for note-taking, collaboration and graphics.

    In most cases, simplicity, interactivity and a more-engaged community inform these preferences. Instant messaging, in Facebook for example, feels more agile and direct than office e-mail.

    Liking a product or service with a thumbs-up or star rating is easier than writing a full review or calling a customer-service line.

    The touch interface of tablets is not only efficient, but also pleasant to use.

    A few years ago, we thought this trend would be set by young, tech-savvy users entering the workplace expecting to be constantly wired. In reality, the consumerisation of IT happens top-down. It's easy for IT departments to ignore requests from junior employees to connect their latest gizmos to the network. But when the chief executive gets a new tablet for his or her birthday, IT may be compelled to support it the next day.

    Remember President Barack Obama's BlackBerry? The Central Intelligence Agency said no. He's still using it.

    Throughout the United States economy, compelling technologies are often adopted as lifestyle accessories by senior executives before they are vetted by IT. That opens the door for the rest of us to use our favourite tablets and smartphones, too.

    Businesses cannot ignore this shift in influence. Especially in the US, where technology companies thrive and where the economy increasingly depends on information, users will simply not tolerate IT turning the clock back.

    However far these changes spread, I'm sure of one thing: The future of business technology is starting at home.

    The writer is the vice-president for South East and North Asia of QlikView, a business- intelligence company.