iPad: IT gets it

In the last article on the share of PCs highlighting the unwillingness of market analysts to categorize the disruptive iPad as a PC I imply that Gartner does not “get it”.

This is partly willful and partly instinctive. The willful ignorance is due to a belief that their customers (IT managers mostly) do not want to hear about the iPad as a viable technology. Certainly there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the iPad is unworthy of consideration as a business tool.

However, there is also increasing evidence that IT does in fact get it. I have met several senior IT managers who are whispering that the iPad will change everything. For us to decide which way the wind blows, we need to think harder about the process by which technology gets adopted in large IT organizations. Understanding how the technology is hired by IT managers to improve their career prospects unveils who wins and who loses in IT.

The main hypothesis I put forward is that IT is an example of “rule of man” not “rule of law”. The idea that law or “standards” (as doctrine is known by the jargon,) defines the products in use is a conventional myth. Standards change and they change quite dramatically based on who’s in charge. The “standard” during the 70’s was the Mainframe, the “standard” in the 80’s was the DOS PC and the “standard” in the 90’s was client-server and in the 2000’s it was the web. Each new standard was a violation of the previous standard. So how did this change happen?

Each evolution of technology standards affects the career of the IT manager. The adoption of technology is the primary driver for advancement in the profession. In most cases the technology being adopted is sustaining. In rare cases it’s disruptive and can cause unforeseen re-distribution of IT power (and wealth).

As IT is a cost center, naturally, organizational behavior (or, in the vernacular “politics”) dominates the decision process. Senior managers look at each technology and ask: how can this help me achieve my career goals? Let’s try this exercise with various innovations that have come along in the last few years.

  1. The Web in 1998. As IP based networking was catching on, the new technology offered a new way to tie existing assets together. It was also a completely new communication channel with customers. This was a great opportunity to increase IT consumption. It would lead to more work, more budget, more visibility and even a strong link between the profit centers of the company and the IT world. The web was an opportunity. It led to a firestorm of adoption.
  2. OSX in 2004. As Windows PCs were widespread and, given the support infrastructure behind them, worked well enough, an IT manager would look at a Mac and see no opportunity to increase their value add. They could not offer new software tools with it, and the old tools would probably not work without debugging. They could not move a Mac to new use cases and could not increase headcount to support it. The Mac was not a career opportunity.
  3. The iPad in 2010. As an IT manager looks at the iPad (and smartphones in general), he sees a similar opportunity to the Web ten years ago. The company users love their devices. Top executive love their devices. They see consumerization happening and there is no denying the explosive growth. There are challenges with integration but these devices are not a direct threat. The iPad is an opportunity to migrate to a completely new form factor and increase IT consumption.

What this means politically is that the manager who figures out a way to roll out mobility in the organization will get the same uplift in his career as his predecessors did when they brought in disruptive waves. Those periods have become the stuff of lore and legend. Every IT manager with ambition is looking to create and ride a new wave. If the person is a mid-level manager, they will scramble to be the champion of the new technology and become a rising star. If the person is a high-level manager, they will see it as a way to protect their empire by co-option. Jostling for a vehicle to bring in the technology will begin. These vehicles are typically vendor relationships. Small vendors (example) have a better chance as the traditional vendors (for example SAP) and integrators are not quick enough with product development and don’t have the products to sell.

This IT manager’s job-to-be-done analysis is crucial to understanding the adoption of IT technology.  Sustaining IT products do not sell themselves even if they are superior. Conversely, new products cannot be kept out of an organization even if they violate standards. What matters is whether they help the decision maker to achieve personal goals.

My own intuition, having worked in such an organization (albeit briefly), and after a few conversations, is that the iPad and the mobile devices it represents is going to influence a generation of IT spending.

Even though Gartner doesn’t, IT goes get it.

  • Anon

    Unfortunately a lot of IT personnel are basically bureaucrats who are mainly interested in protecting their turf. These are the people who have rolled out software with a IE6-only web interface– in the name of "Quality Control"– in my organization, which is about 80/20 PC/Mac.

    • r.d

      you can say that about every sector of the economy.
      Try Pentagon, State Department, Congress, etc
      In other words, Rich want to stay rich whether they do anything or not.

      Only those not in power cry about justice and truth. the
      ones in power already create all the laws to help themselves.

  • If the IT manager changed to a standards based web based model in the 2000s then the iPad is probably already ready for them.

    In reality they'll have some dumb ActiveX component that essentially embeds the VB app they wrote in the 1990s.

  • Kal

    Sounds like Verizon gets it. Refer to today's pr that Verizon will offer a Wifi only ipad with a Mi-Fi. This on the heels of Target and Walmart. The Tsunami is coming and PC companies are still out at sea…

    • r.d

      What I don't understand is Why Apple is releasing a press release
      which basically says no GPS for you, move along.
      What kind of innovation is that.

      • GPS in the iPad is built in to the 3G chip so since Verizon's are WiFi only it doesn't have it.

        iOS has no support for external GPS units either so you're kind of stuck.

  • OpenMind

    Very well said. For those IT managers who are bureaucrats protecting their turf, they will be moved aside sooner or later. They either have to adapt or to go away. iPad looks like a re-run of iPod 10 years ago. Analysis dismiss the impact of iPad now just like then the impact of iPod. Competitors try also run with inferior product to iPad, just like then to iPod. The only difference is iPod is to consumer, iPad is to business. At end of day, I think iPad would be even more significant to Apple than iPhone. A couple years from now, Apple may not even care about the sales of iPhone as long as iPad is sold well. Apple may just use iPhone as a experiment tool to try out new things before put it on iPad.

  • I completely agree with the disruptive nature of the iPad and tablets in general. Being an industry / market analyst myself I often times disagree with my colleagues at IDC and Gartner regarding this shift in computing we are seeing. I luckily have a number of good media outlets as well as an upcoming CES session on Tablets called Tablets: A New Era of Mobile computing. I will come out and say I think tablets overall could ship more then 50 m next year.

    I am in my conversations with the larger OEM and ODM's emphasizing this disruptive shift and articulating how touch computing will change everything.

  • Jason

    Good post as usual Horace.

    What I find interesting about this is that even in this day and age, large companies are completely satisfied with funding a clergy-laity class structure. You would think that after the nearly two decades of PC dominance in these organizations – and the problems associated with them like, crashes, upgrade issues, viruses etc. – they would have wised up. Entrusting the nerve center of your company to the arbitrary control of a technology clergy has created this resistance to new technology. I realize that most industries have their "gate keepers", but at some point companies will need to start making decisions that are customized and optimized for their own needs instead of what feeds an industry that profits from crisis.

  • FalKirk

    I have been stunned at the rapid acceptance of the iPad in Enterprise. In fact, I would have said that the title to your post, "IT gets it" was an oxymoron." But your post has helped me understand some of the human dynamics that are making the acceptance of the iPad possible.

  • RobDK

    Hi Ben Bajarin! Glad to see you commenting here! Maybe you can shed a little light on why these analysts are unable to recognise paradigm shifts or asymetric competition? Are they really only there to pander to their paying customers?!

    • Hi Rob, there are I think several analysts who get it unfortunately those don't get the same kind of exposure of others. When we are at larger analysts meetings there is alway a good deal of debate. We are an opinionated crowd as you can imagine.

      Broadly however I feel that so many analysts just look at numbers not fundamental market shifts. I sort of think you need to be a hobby economist / behavioral economist to fully grasp the consumer market in particular. Also I think many look at consumer markets the way they looked at enterprise. I also don't think that is a good parallel.

      Just my thoughts.

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  • I think I'd categorize the iPad as a post-PC device, so I suppose there's some validity in not grouping it in with PC sales. On the other hand, the iPad is displacing personal computing activities from the legacy form factor. For instance look at how Morgan Stanley is using the iPad as a research consumption device for the time period before the market opens.

    Where delivering research to the web was a revolution; now delivering through iPad and an institutional investor app is even more powerful.

  • Horace the Grumo

    Bang on the money… so I am sitting in the airport lounge last evening waiting for my delayed flight….. and as I look around I see a lot of Macs and iPads being used… a lot more than say two years ago… the thing is that almost all these Macs and iPads are being used by executives, while the nerds in the lounge are all hunched over PCs…

    So the nerds and IT geeks hang onto PCs because that gives them a reason to be employed, but executives just see iPads (more particularly) as a way of getting rid of some of this annoying and troublesome cost centre.. Maybe the geeks and IT nerds will have to learn some people skills to hang onto their jobs – just imagine!

  • Sandeep

    Here's my take: IT is being disrupted.

    We are seeing a deluge of new form factors and devices that users are bringing into the workplace whether IT likes it or not. The trend will only increase once more specialized services hit. Cloud computing will only add to IT woes and users traction of third party services grows (think GMail, Basecamp, Evernote etc). Users will find external services easier to get setup and go than using internal services.

    The gatekeepers are being over powered. It will take 2-3 years for things to tip over.

    • Marcos El Malo

      Part of the iPad's (and future tablet competitors) strength is as a mobile UI to the cloud. While on can see IT departments as high priests with some justification, they don't rule the kingdom. The "pope" of any particular company serves at the pleasure of the "king" and his advisers, i.e., the CEO and top management. In a period of technological disruption there are opportunities for upstart IT priests to usurp the company's IT pope.

      CEOs, top management, and department and divisional leaders (including IT) are buying iPads for personal and family use and then seeing the iPad as part of a creative solution for certain business problems as well as opportunities to get ahead of the competition. They're looking at the App store and seeing how rapidly apps can be brought to market and they know (or should know) that they can create in house apps in the same way. So the pressure is going to be on IT to take advantage of these opportunities. For companies that don't take advantage, soon enough the pressure will be to catch up with their competitors.

      The initial solutions might be as simple as using an iPad (or some other tablet) as an informal presentation device, to be passed around in a small meeting. This gets the iPad in the door. Once it's there, ambitious persons in a company organization will find new uses for the iPad to solve problems and create opportunities. Maybe we'll see the gatekeepers overpowered, as you say, but they'll be replaced by new gatekeepers (or if they're smart enough, they'll keep their positions by adopting the new paradigm).

      However, this is not to say that iPad type computing won't change the ways that companies do business. Quite the opposite! I don't see how iPad type computing will fail to be transformational in ways large and small.

      • Sandeep

        I agree. iPad is disrupting the status quo in IT departments. Anytime there is a disruption there are winners and losers within the IT organization.

        Times they are a changin'


  • Yowsers

    You're citing a quote from a 2nd or 3rd tier online tech mag and using that to call down hellfire?


    His other posts have dealt with other tablets, I don't think "blissfully ignorant" applies here.

    Take your meds and keep to the schedule, Hype, it'll help take the edge off things. If not for you, at least for us.

  • asymco

    Are you saying that the quote I ascribe to Gartner in my article was not "actually said" by Gartner? I linked directly to their web site. If your claim is therefore that their site was hacked, you should help by reporting it to their site administrator.

  • HypeSlayer

    I am actually citing the source – the Gartner document that the second tier online tech pub cited. I can't cite the actual document because it is behind their pay wall.

    All I am saying is that this both misrepresents Gartner and shows a lack of understanding of where the media tablet market is headed… the iPad is not a market unto itself, as the post prior to this one asserts, unless you only look in the rear view mirror.

    And thanks for the ad hominem attack. Classy move.

    • EricE

      "All I am saying is that this both misrepresents Gartner and shows a lack of understanding of where the media tablet market is headed…"

      Their lame attempt to pigeonhole the iPad as a "media tablet" – implying that it's value is strictly for content consumption – either shows that the don't get it, or they do get it and are intentionally trying to marginalize a technology that the customers that fund the majority of their research don't have a direct answer to. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which is worse.

      "the iPad is not a market unto itself"

      Anti-iPad apologists keep trotting this out – and yet there are no shipping competitors to the iPad. And none of the "competitors" shown are competing on price, form factor or ecosystem. It would be interesting if they were on at least one of them – let alone more than one of them. But so far it's all hot air and vaporware. That's what makes claims such as yours that "It's not a market unto itself" so amusing. You can split hairs and argue semantics all you want, but at the end of the day the iPad is shipping (and selling in the millions).

      "Real artists ship". It's not just a pithy catch phrase.

  • Pixelpusher

    Nobody got fired for buying IBM.

    That was the old IT mantra. As the world moves to tablet devices, the "safe" choice is going to be Apple, for many of the same reasons. Size, familiarity, omnipresence. What IT manager is going to bet his career on putting everyone on Samsung Galaxy slabs?

  • asymco

    This is where we can have a healthy disagreement. For me, the categorization of market data is the most important advisory service that Gartner can provide. The visibility of that data is far higher than the advice they offer clients privately or behind pay walls. There are obviously disagreements within Gartner on how to present this disruption and I'm glad that their consultants are putting forward a reasonable argument. But until the market definition is changed and the ultimate measure of a market is changed they *don't get it*. Like all econometric statistics, they frame the discussion. I've seen the corrosive effect of mis-measurement first hand.

    • HypeSlayer

      I think what they are saying is that this is a new category of device that isn't quite a PC and isn't quite a smartphone. One that doesn't displace PC sales, except to the extent of its impact on a total household electronics budget – i.e. not a like for like substitution. Calling it a PC would be to define the new in terms of the old, which is a mistake people often make.

  • kevin

    Most people in the US (or even much of Europe) who might think about buying a PC already own a PC. So Gartner saying that people are buying the iPad as a secondary device essentially means that people are buying the iPad instead of upgrading their PC or adding a 2nd PC.

    Many people, including myself, made these Gartner arguments (instant-on, full day battery, no sys admin complexity, lightweight) from day 1 of iPad but were told by the experts like Gartner that the target of iPad was just e-readers. Well, it’s good to see that Gartner is slowly coming around, though they are still picking their words carefully so as not to upset their PC clients.

    • asymco

      They are damning it with faint praise. Calling it a "media tablet" seethes with contempt.

  • airmanchairman

    I sent a jokey email to some engineers in the Network Operations Centre where I work titled: "Sack the Service Desk and give the Corporate Network engineers iPhones & iPads".

    Attached to the email were these hyperlinks to an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app:

    I have since received feedback by some amazed engineers who assumed from the "Gartner analysis" that the iPad was a consumer tool unworthy of corporate use. The hyperlinks only scratch the surface of what is achievable on the iPad platform. Go figure.

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