Greater choice for users means more headaches for IT chiefs...
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets is great news for consumer choice but a more diverse generation of mobile computers is set to drive up costs for IT departments, according to professional services firm Deloitte.
While traditional PCs will remain the workhorse computing platform for most of the globe this year, Deloitte predicts that more than 50 per cent of computing devices sold worldwide in 2011 will not be PCs - and will extend their lead over traditional PCs in 2012.
Writing in its 10th annual Deloitte Predictions for the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Sector, 2011 report, the firm said: "When looking at the future of computing devices, 2011 may well mark the tipping point as we move from a world of mostly standardised PC-like devices, containing standardised chips and software, to a far more heterogeneous environment."
Users are bringing the latest shiny gadgets to work and expecting IT to support them. But the lack of standardisation on these non-PC devices has costly implications for the IT department, according to Deloitte. For one thing, it says, no single OS dominates - nor is a de facto standard likely to emerge by the end of this year.
"IT departments are likely to face significantly higher costs to support this new, more diverse technology environment. Administering a traditional PC computing ecosystem centred around a single OS can cost thousands of dollars per employee per year. Supporting five times as many operating systems is unlikely to require fewer people and less money," the report notes.
"Yet telling employees to go back to the days when they had to standardise on one OS or device seems impossible: that particular genie left the bottle long ago. Given these trends, the cost of IT support seems set to rise."
Determining the true total cost of ownership will present a "significant learning curve" for IT chiefs, the report adds.
"In this new era where more than half of all new computing devices sold are non-PCs, the ranges of price, performance, form factor and other variables will be at least an order of magnitude wider. Choosing will take longer, and will need to be done more carefully," it notes.
"For IT departments, the cost of managing a mixed network of PCs and non-PCs is likely to be much higher than standardising on one or the other. Yet employees are increasingly being allowed to pick their own devices, and tens of millions have already done so - especially with smartphones."
Enterprise demand for tablets is growing faster than consumer demand for the shiny slabs, according to Deloitte. This year it predicts more than 25 per cent of all tablet computers will be bought by enterprises, with that figure likely to rise in 2012 and beyond.
"For an enterprise, a key challenge will be deciding whether to support multiple types of tablets or standardise on a single type," the report notes. "Employees often prefer to choose their own devices; however, IT support costs rise with device diversity. Balancing the IT department's desire for a single, cost-effective solution against employees' desire for freedom of choice will likely be just as challenging with tablets as it is with smartphones."
Factors accelerating tablets' adoption in businesses include...
... consumers using personal tablets for work, and slates having a more boardroom-friendly form factor - unlike laptops, they do not create a physical barrier between the user and others in the room, says Deloitte.
Enterprise software providers - including ERP, ECM and CRM vendors - are also rapidly responding to Fortune 500 customer requests for tablet-specific software that can be easily deployed into existing IT environments, according to the report. The availability of this software is accelerating the adoption of enterprise tablets.
According to Deloitte, retail, manufacturing and healthcare are likely to be early adopters of tablets - taking advantage of their ease of use, long battery life, lack of moving parts, minimal need for training and rapid app-development environments.
During 2011, up to five million tablets could be deployed in the combined retail and healthcare sectors, Deloitte predicts, with retail accounting for the lion's share of deployments. Retail use cases for tablets could include digital catalogues and point-of-sale terminals combined with a card reader, it said.
It predicts healthcare deployments will account for fewer than one million devices by the end of the year owing to the traditional conservatism of healthcare authorities, administrators and practitioners.
But it's not all bad news for CIOs' bottom lines: the proliferation of wi-fi hotspots could help reduce mobile data bills. Deloitte reckons the number of public hotspots worldwide could increase by 20 per cent this year, rising to more than 400,000.
"IT managers can help their companies keep costs in check by making it as easy as possible for users to log in to wi-fi networks when available," the report notes. "This is especially important for users who access data while roaming; access to hotspots could represent a major cost saving."
Deloitte predicts the volume of data uploaded or downloaded from portable devices via public wi-fi networks will grow at a much faster rate - 25 to 50 per cent - than the volume carried over cellular broadband networks, with wi-fi becoming the default carrier for video traffic.
A steady shift toward tiered data pricing by the mobile operators is also turning more users onto wi-fi, the report notes.
Deloitte expects that fewer than 30 LTE carriers in six countries will offer commercial services by the end of 2011, despite 130 carriers running LTE trials at the end of 2010.
"LTE - as it exists today - does not offer the quantum leap in speeds and features over 3G that previous generational upgrades did, which is why some carriers have been able to postpone upgrading," the report notes.
Video-calling will also remain a niche offering in 2011, despite the tech being more widely available, Deloitte predicts.
"In the business world, relationships and trust are often built on conversations at bars, restaurants, taxi rides, golf courses and the company water cooler. Video-calling cannot replicate these kinds of experiences," the report adds.