Think different

CIOs should consider the recent surge of interest in internet tablets as a sign that there's more than one way to collaborate in the enterprise.

Tags: Apple IncorporatedMicrosoft CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  February 22, 2010

It seems that virtually all technology discussion this month has been dominated by the mobile world. In the dying moments of January, noted fruit purveyors Apple finally saw fit to bestow its latest bounty upon the unsuspecting world, the iPad tablet, which aims to be the next quantum leap forward for mobile computing. As February came to close, Microsoft sought to take back ground from its Cupertino-based rival in the consumer space with the launch of a new mobile OS with the unwieldy title of Windows Phone 7 series.

Big deal, CIOs say. These are two vendors duking it out in the consumer arena. Nothing to do with us at all - we're quite happy to persist with our Blackberries and build more fully-fledged enterprise applications for them instead.  That's what our end-users demand, and that's where our R&D dollars will be going. But they would be unwise to dismiss these developments.

Now, I'm not suggesting that simply because Apple and Microsoft have released shiny new gadgets, management at RIM are tossing and turning in their sleep in an effort to deliver a response. The Blackberry rules the corporate world and with good reason - it delivers a rock-solid platform for enterprise e-mail coupled with strong security measures and a deep understanding of how companies structure communication within their overall infrastructure. But it's equally hard to ignore the fact that RIM has not been terribly active of late in looking for ways to move the game forward.

In many ways, this situation reminds me of Microsoft's mobile efforts in the early part of this century. When Windows Mobile first appeared on the scene, there were few competitors (and to be honest, few takers) for what was a very complex product at the time: a mobile phone that could do rudimentary e-mail and expand its functionality through plug-in applications. Considering the speed and cost of data connections through now-ancient GPRS technology as well the crudity of the first stylus-based interfaces, it's not hard to understand to understand why Windows Mobile devices were considering expensive tinker toys for bored IT managers.

Meanwhile, rather than trying to create a full-featured device, RIM buckled down and focused on its core e-mail competency, eventually winning fans from across the world. But there's another very good reason why the Canadian firm succeeded: it understood the value of consumer demand. By putting Blackberries into the hands of celebrities worldwide, it managed to make a messaging device quintessentially cool. Even if you never sent more than five e-mails a day, you wanted one and you wanted your IT department to support it. Today, the device is a byword for enterprise connectivity.

Its Redmond-based rival has clearly been taking lessons. The interface of the new Windows Phone 7 has its roots in consumer devices like the Zune HD and incorporates elements of social media into its design. While CIOs might sneer at such design choices, the reality is - as this month's feature shows - is that social media is here to stay in the enterprise. Companies that collaborate in a more organised way are inherently more efficient. CIOs who disregard these kinds of technology as mere marketing tools are underestimating the importance of building a community of users within the enterprise and the benefits it can add to morale, while reducing the traditional barriers between management and staff, without compromising authority.

It's much the same story with the iPad. Yes, it's a slick delivery device for Apple products and services for consumers. But considered from another angle, it's also a great tool for mobile salespeople to enter orders remotely on a Web-based CRM. It's a way to translate bulky little-read tomes such as HR manuals into easily parsed-wikis or e-books. With the arrival of cloud-based service like service-as-a-storage, it unchains IT staff from their desks and frees them up to manage infrastructure while on the move - or even from home.

It really is all about how you perceive new disruptive technology - not as a threat, but as way of doing business more efficiently. Unfortunately, it seems many of our regional CIOs have chosen to sit out the crisis in "keeping the lights on" mode. It's a choice that reflects our conservative nature in the region - but also puts us further and further behind in the race for innovation.
















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