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Corporate IT 'will follow the consumer market'

Businesses will make more use of technologies and sales models originally designed with consumers in mind, such as hosted applications that carry advertising instead of charging the user a licence fee

The technology decisions of large enterprises will increasingly be shaped by the rapid changes taking place in the consumer space, a London conference heard on Tuesday.

Richard Holway, a technology analyst, told the UK Technology Innovation & Growth Forum that the IT world is increasingly being driven forward by consumers.

"Over the last twenty years it was consumers, as well as geeks like Bill Gates, who dragged technology forward. It was very much consumers who drove mobile and text messaging," said Holway, adding that individual users are also driving the search and VoIP industries.

Web-based applications are another hot issue today, with companies such as Salesforce.com challenging established business models. Holway predicted that 'software as a service' would be an important theme in the future, and that companies would be prepared to deploy such services even if they were funded by advertising rather than a licence fee.

"People have argued in the past that corporates will always buy software and won't ever use an ad-driven service. But, if you accept the theory that consumers lead, then I believe that that will happen," Holway added.

Apple, with iTunes and the iPod, has been one of the big winners in the consumer IT space in recent years. Mark Rogers, Apple UK's managing director, believes that his firm can win market share in the enterprise space by helping companies implement technologies such as video-based training..

"We develop tools to let you manage digital assets, by putting a very simple user interface on top of very complicated technology," said Rogers. "There's already a lot of use of Apple technology in tiny pockets, in places where people are interested in creating video, for example. Now, every single corporate [entity] is interested in creating videos, whether for internal training or for their customers. If you can do that in a very cost-effective and accessible way, they'll buy your product."

Not everyone at the event agreed that the enterprise market could learn a lot from the consumer space.

"From where I sit, it [the consumer tech market] looks more like the fashion industry than grown-up ICT," claimed Mark Hunter, chief executive of Axon, a consultancy that helps businesses implement SAP's applications.

Apple's Rogers, though, disagreed. "On face of it, the consumer market may look funky and out there and not relevant to the corporate space, but the reality is that... the technology supporting those services are critical ones that industry has to adopt," Rogers said.

Last week, at the 3GSM World Congress, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer claimed that it was a mistake to divide users of technology into business people and consumers.

"Everyone likes to differentiate between business and consumers but I don't see the difference really. Most people are people," Ballmer said. "I get personal and business mail and I have one set of contacts from my life. I don't want to manage two sets. I want one view of my world," said Ballmer, in a keynote speech.