Post-PC means it's time for enterprise IT to change

Post-PC means it's time for enterprise IT to change

Summary: The post-PC era changes everything, including how the enterprise IT department approaches its work...

TOPICS: Consumerization
Employees using their own kit. It's a very post-PC thing to do.

A friend of mine asked me today for some advice about a problem he needs to solve.

He has a mobile workforce, several thousand people strong. They all have tablets — let's assume the devices are iPads, although they don't need to be. Each tablet has its own cellular connection.

What my friend wants to do is control access to the web while the users are out of the office, in the same way that he does from desktop machines that are on-premises. For example, there's no Facebook, no dodgy malware-drenched sites.

It's not unusual to lock down access to the web on desktop machines. We've been locking down the web in corporate environments since the web was first invented.

But as soon as you give those users iPads and send them off into the big, wide world, achieving the same effect is much less obvious. More to the point, the fact that with post-PC devices this is much harder to achieve tells us something about how enterprise IT is changing.


These changes to enterprise IT are happening in an interesting way. Consumerization of IT, enterprise mobility, and an increased awareness of how IT systems work within society as a whole are all pushing this change. Post-PC ideas, around mobility allowing the user to break outside of the physical and temporal boundaries of work, coupled with increased appeal of cloud-based systems, come at the time when this change is happening, but is also causing the change to happen.

In essence, post-PC is both cause and effect.

The first thing to think about is that in the PC days, "lock everything down" was an obvious thing to do. The IT department worked from the perspective of controlling risk and cost as a primarily goal. This was done by a sort of gentle "mistrust" of the user base (which I don't mean in a pejorative sense). The IT department knew best, and they were in charge, and they made the decisions.

My Twitter friend Matt Ballantine describes it very well when he says the role of IT moving from a position of acting like a "utility company" where they provide services, top-down to the organization, to one where they act as counsel to the organization. By acting as counsel, they advise rather than provide, in much the same way a lawyer provides advice, rather than getting their hands dirty.

Coming back to the original idea about locking down access to the web when the user is mobile, the old utility company way of looking at things suggests control and that locking things down is a good idea. Users should not be trusted. However, in the new "acting as counsel" way, the IT department may look at it differently. Empowered employees working in an environment where risks are respected and managed may be beneficial to the business for all sorts of reasons.

This shift to acting as counsel goes hand in glove with the move to post-PC -- i.e. it's how the IT department needs to behave for everyone to get the most out of it.


My friend who needs to lock down web access for thousands of tablets has found that there are no good solutions to his problem. And this brings us onto the second change that we're experiencing as enterprise IT moves into the post-PC era.

Technically, there seems to be only two solutions available for this. First one is to reverse a proxy server so that devices are follow my mobile device management (MDM)-forced policy to route all traffic from the cellular network to an outward facing proxy server, into the corporate network, and then back out into the world if the proxy server policy allows it. (Ugly.) The second one is to force a VPN connection -- but VPN works poorly in mobile scenarios because it's designed around good fixed connections rather than flaky mobile ones.

I suspect a lot of you have thrown-up a little bit just reading about those solutions. They are not lovely!

(As a side note, if you have any good ways to solve this, please do chime in the comments!)

In pre-post-PC enterprise-land, difficult, non-obvious things were fun. But in post-PC enterprise-land, we're acting more as counsel, and as part of that, we're expecting to involve non-technologists within the business to find solutions and bring them to us for advice. These will often be cloud-based, software-as-a-service-style solutions.

More to the point, the solutions will generally be very lightweight, cheap, and easy. Implementing them should be a process of checking boxes and long, lazy, self-congratulatory lunches.

To be properly post-PC any solution for locking down web access should be obvious and easy. But it isn't obvious and easy, ergo it isn't something that we're supposed to be doing. 

This may seem like tortuous logic, but let me see if I can make the thought process a little smoother.

The fall of the PC started with the desire for people to have better relationships with the people and things that they love. As it moves into the enterprise, post-PC is supposed to help support their work as well by improving relationships with colleagues, customers, and partners.

That involves listening to non-IT colleagues outside the IT department who identify tools that will help them, and listen to end-users who know how they want them to work.

This whole thing is very fluid, light, adaptable, and adapting. Complex and expensive, big-ticket, consultancy-led IT projects don't really fit into that model. Neither does top-down control and "mistrust" (or however you want to label it).

My friend, for his specific organizational needs, need to lock down his devices for reasons I need to keep private here -- but for rest of us, things are very much changing as enterprise IT moves into the post-PC era.

If it's not light and fluffy -- and if you feel like a technician when you implement it rather than a lawyer -- you're doing it wrong.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Consumerization

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  • Interesting

    If you were being paid a grand for every time U mention 'post pc' that would add up to $13,000.00 fairly tidy little spinner what, U sure seem like Microsoft knocked U back re-kickbacks, either that or we all now know how Samsung rigs opinion, need more be said..
    • post PC x1000

      Lol, you took it out of my mouth. Interesting that major PC companies are making good profits in recent quarters.
      • Some truth in Post PC

        I don't like the term, but there is some truth to it. The tablet era (as short lived as it seems to be) ushered in a new form factor for computing. The form factor is fine. The sandboxed, locked down and limited-use computing modes are not as fine. So we need a term to describe the Post-PC era. I call it the Single-Use Computing era. Tablets that can only do one thing at a time.

        Now we are ushering a new era, Multi-Use, Convergent devices marked by Hybrids and Tablets capable of extending the use case for this new portable form factor. We are now moving into Post-Mobile and quickly into Convergence.
    • The problem with his entire article is revealed

      in the beginning of the one paragraph - "The fall of the PC..."

      Remember, he's a "mobile software development consultant", so he really needs to get people to believe that the PC "is dead" in order to remain in business. Given the choice after reading his articles, I honestly believe he'll push a mobile solution over a better "PC Based" solution any day of the week, as his income is based on getting people "mobile", not "effective".

      So yeah, lets push the concept enough hoping people actually start believing it...
  • Couple things

    I'll assume the tablet is an iPad. Luckily Apple has a couple API you can utilize.

    1. I assume you have an MDM and are pushing Apple's MDM API set
    2. I assume all devices are corporate liable so you can control the device as you wish.

    Option 1: Disable Safari. If the devices are purposed for specific function that doesn't have internet need (custom Apps etc.) This has side affects as some Apps use hooks with Safari to function so you'll need to do testing of all relevant Apps used.

    Option 2: Deploy your MDM secure browser. All major MDM provide one. This will then force all traffic through your network and proxy for supervision etc. These browsers often do not provide the full function of Safari as Apple doesn't provide all the hooks.

    Option 3: Deploy Surface Pro as you don't need to deal with Apple and option 1 & 2. You can likely leverage everything you are with corporate laptops as your dealing with a full OS.

    2014 we're replacing all iPads with Surface Pro, we tried for 3 years to make iOS work and no success. It's a square for a circle type of thing. The device is not capable due the limitations of the OS and Apple's focus on consumer.
    • Just a pity Apple do NOT allow the mdm policy to be enforced

      Last I looked Apple policy was that any profile/policy can be deleted by the user. Right away you lose ANY ability to control anything and there can be so many alerts nobody actually looks at any. Trust me; I'm in the real world.

      Unfortunately post-PC simply shows all current options cannot be 'trusted' and in my opinion IOS and possibly Android need a strategy change. Post-PC at the moment has to be surface and surface pro. That ticks ALL the boxes...... Apart from the "is it an Apple". Too bad but the reality is they are not enterprise reAdy or friendly. It causes me a lot of work :-(
      • MDM profiles

        Most of the major MDM give you the options to allow profile removal or not. Allowing users to do this have pro and con.

        You would also see this in your compliance report - dashboard for users that did remove it and do the appropriate follow up.
  • ....not really.

    Top fortune 50 companies are all running iPads with similar restrictions. They seem to be handling it just fine. What is it that they know?
    • iPad

      Something to do with iPad was the only option then? Surface Rt even gives you more flexibility!
      • windows RT?

        how do you get more flexibility with RT?!?
        • User accounts?

          Just for one example.

          jonnybr does have a point. iPads took off, because they were first to market and people became familiar with them. People are forcing them into roles they were never designed for and doing some pretty amazing things with them.

          However, the limitations of iOS and workarounds to get them into a productive roll are often clumbsy, less functional or just less productive than other alternatives.

          That isn't a criticism of iPads. They are great consumer entertainment devices, but they are not designed for enterprise level work.
    • Easy to hack

      Even a child can get around iPad security
  • you overlook the one glaring flaw in your logic..

    USERS REALLY!!!! Can NOT be trusted!!!

    Stop pretending they are something other than mindless facebook swilling drones with one specific task to be focused upon..and focusing them on the clock IS the job of the IT disallowing them all the time killing personal life nonsense they would otherwise do if not locked down.
    • Really?

      Those users come closer to paying your salary than you do. You are a cost center, an expense and a service department. Yes they usually don't have a technology clue and just need it to work and they always make your job harder. Suck it up. As an IT guy for 25 years I am disappointed to see corporate IT doing more to inhibit technology then enabling these days.
      • You're missing something.

        I work in IT, and we lock things down for compliance, and security reasons. And because managers demand that we do so. Trust me I'd love to just let every on have unlimited happy, happy fun time. But the second we fail a security audit, or have a publically embarrassing data breach, I'm out of a job. Personally at a time when cyber threats are ever increasing I find it hard to believe that so many people are so lax about data integrity just because it now comes wrapped in shiny new toys.
        • Agree Somewhat

          The only managers I've seen demanding lock downs are IT managers to ensure job security and managers who can't or won't do their job of managing people who can't manage personal and work time. I agree there are security risks but most security guys go so far as to make the normal persons job easier with pencil and paper. They are the also the people that take the fall when something bad happens so unfortunately nobody wins. Sad state of technology.
  • I wonder if the strategy will ultimately succeed . . .

    Okay, his business tried to be hip and cool by giving everybody an iPad . . .

    I wonder if the strategy will ultimately succeed . . .

    Indeed, I wonder if this whole "Post-PC" movement will ultimately succeed. Seems to me it's been a square peg being pushed down a round hole by the tech press, who think that protecting the latest buzzwords is the ultimate goal of any forward-thinking paradigm.
    • There is a lot that must happen for a post-PC world

      About a year ago I bought my wife a tablet, her laptop got stolen and I thought it the perfect opportunity for an "experiment". She has got her own business, about 10 employees, which I felt would be a good environment for this test.

      I got her the Samsung Note 10.1 as I felt the stylus would give an extra advantage. This month she bought a laptop, I'm happy, I have a tablet now to go with my phablet :)

      But what I did learn, it is not so much the security, but the interface. She had major gripes in using spreadsheets, the other problem was that the business software she ran still needs a PC, the major gripe though was spreadsheets.

      In my view, before we can talk about a post-PC era, we have to get a LOT better at UI design, we must be able to manipulate data without resorting to spreadsheets, and business software needs to adapt to at least a responsive web interface. Without that there will never be a post-PC era as real work still need a PC.
  • Matt, I want to see your face

    when a plumber comes to your house and tells you that now, in the post-PC era, instead of providing service, he only provides advise (for the same hundred bucks an hour), and someone else will have to get his (or her) hand durty.
    • The plumber

      probably has an iPad for work.