Who picked your search engine?

Does constantly being within reach of the network cause your work to follow you home – or allow you to take your personal life to work? Either way you answer, I’d argue the latter phenomena is one of the most important trends in the technology industry. And has been for more than twenty years.

In that period, the technology in your personal life has had a massive impact on enterprise infrastructure – and there’s no sign it’s abating. The most interesting trend is that it’s moving to an even younger generation than the one likely reading this blog.

And that’s been my thesis for a while: true power in the IT industry is moving out of the enterprise, and into the hands of ever younger consumers.

Look at history. 50 years ago, if you wanted to buy a piece of computing technology, where did you go? To one company. They happily appeared, and made a call on your CEO or board. Because realistically, if you wanted to take advantage of what they had to offer, you needed some serious money – and a board level commitment.

Then what happened? Well, first timesharing took off (today we call it “utility computing,” but that’s another blog). Second, prices came down (all those Amdahl coffee mugs helped when talking to the IBM sales rep) – and realistically, technology became more affordable/commonplace. CEO’s lost interest. Partially because the expense went down, and partially because the technology issues overwhelmed the business issues. So the issue was delegated into the world of data processing – from which CIO’s ultimately emerged.

Now the history of the CIO is an interesting one (to some, anyways) – and as technology became more affordable, and complexity increased (along with opportunity), they hired staffs who built up their own agenda and expertise. Which gave rise to, among other things, the era of client server computing.

Which put a lot of power in the hands of the IT staff – to determine what technology was used, when and where. And over time, follow the trends, employees started taking work, and luggables, home – only to modify that technology for personal needs, and bring new challenges to their IT staffs. Thus began the PC revolution, which put many CIO’s and IT staffs into a defensive mode of reacting to the needs of the workforce – it was enormously empowering for employees, and a royal pain for CIO’s.

Why? Over time, employees brought PC’s into their lives – for budgets, for taxes, for letters and gaming. And that started driving IT decisions – in that employees weren’t just bringing work home – they were bringing their home life to work. How many PC’s in your enterprise have CD players? How many of your employees look at consumer web sites at work (can you imagine watching the news at work 30 years ago vs. peeking at cnn.com today)? Do you limit your daily email to colleagues and customers? Ever IM at work? 10 years ago, the consumer eCommerce wave began – has it had an impact on the enterprise? Clearly.

And continuing that trend, think about the following: who picked the search engine you use most often? It wasn’t your CIO. Yet is a search engine a part of your business toolbox? Certainly, yes. And who picked your cell phone? Likely not your CIO, either – yet do you use it for business purposes? Surely, yes. And given that over a billion were sold last year – to a vast population (some 58% (!) of the US population, says the Yankee Group in the New York Times last week). Many of those buyers had jobs. And there’s no doubt mobility will have a growing impact on IT infrastructure (accelerated by its security attributes, in my mind, but that’s a separate blog). The era of command and control has come to an end. Long live massively scaled shared services.

All this is interesting to me – influence in the IT marketplace over the past 50 years has migrated out of the boardroom, out of the executive suites, and increasingly out of the IT workforce to the consumer – who, it turns out, has a vast amount of money to spend on discretionary technology (I won’t remind you how large the ringtone industry is – and I ask you to find one industry analyst who predicted that one!). Which drives the economics and strategies behind enterprise IT.

All this makes businesses interested in finding consumers and driving new business by connecting to them over the ‘net. Businesses are following consumers – and adapting their infrastructure to prioritize that pursuit. It’s also beginning to change the assumption base – if you hire kids from college, or expect to reach them, you should no longer assume they have wireline phones. If your business runs over a wireline phone (or is built upon selling wireline lines), you’ve obviously got a challenge.

And here’s an interesting customer example – tangential, but related.

I was up in Seattle last week, meeting with the folks at Boeing’s Connexion. If you don’t know them already, they’re the people responsible for putting network connections on airplanes (thank you thank you thank you, Boeing). They are a very cool crowd. 5Mbs to the plane today, going up.

If you fly as much as I do, this is better than real silverware. I can get work done, I can stay up on what’s happening, and I can send mountains of action items as the altitude gradually relieves me of restraint.

I had a great conversation with their President, Scott Carlson – who told me an interesting story.

He decided to fly Lufthansa a year or so ago, just after they went live with Connexion onboard. Once he was aloft, he sent email to his team at work, and his wife – and then he received an email. But it wasn’t from an individual, it was from a phone number. It was a family member sending him an SMS message from her mobile handset (while she was driving to work, no less). To an airplane. How cool is that?

And just wait until they start running video chat over that network… something tells me they’re going to need a tad more than 5Mbs real soon.

Which is all to say – the enterprise technology industry is now being balanced by a need to appeal to, follow and embrace consumers and consumer preferences on the internet. 15 year olds have a bit more sway today than 50 years ago.

And at least in my case, the issue isn’t whether I bring work home – that’s a choice I’ve made for years to spend more time with my family. The issue is driving the technologies that consumers take to work. That’s a big a driver of our business.

And more than likely, yours.

UPDATE: Is this

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