Consumerization of IT Began Where?

Reporter's Notebook: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a brief history lesson to IT professionals at the recent Gartner IT/Symposium in Orlando. Plus: Dell's comments.
Posted October 15, 2007

David Needle

Reporter's Notebook: ORLANDO -– Here's a brief history lesson that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave IT professionals and CIOs at the recent Gartner IT/Symposium here.

When a Gartner analyst asked Ballmer what the software giant was doing to exploit the trend of consumer technology being used by hordes of knowledge workers, he chuckled before answering. The trend, identified by research firms like Gartner as "the consumerization of IT" includes the use of social networks like Facebook, blogs, and other so-called Web 2.0 technologies.

"It's ironic to ask me. The number one company to benefit from the consumerization of IT is Microsoft. We didn't start in the data center, we started on the desktop," he said.

He's right. The early IBM PC and compatibles that helped power Microsoft's success, were kind of the Blackberries of their day, used by a select group of knowledge workers to tap the power of Lotus 1-2-3 or some other personal productivity app. I can even remember reporting on whether the PC would ever catch on in the executive suite because it was so rare to find someone there with typing skills.

Ballmer and Dell CEO Michael Dell were the featured "Mastermind" Q&A interviews on stage at the Gartner event that attracted over 6,000 attendees. Ballmer didn't dispute the consumerization of IT trend. He just brushed aside the notion that it's new.

Sure, PCs loosened the grip of minicomputers in the enterprise. Ballmer said he wants to be sure his company isn't pushed aside by the next Microsoft wannabe.

As an example, he mentioned the success it's had with its Sharepoint collaboration software being used by companies like Best Buy's GeekSquad to communicate with customers.

But when Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese suggested there's almost a civil war brewing between old guard IT and a new generation of users that prefer social networks and blogs, Ballmer gave a Reaganesque "There you go again" response.

"I don't know that there's a civil war; everyone should calm down," he said, to laughs from the audience. He noted that the Blackberry first made its way into companies without IT's approval. Now, it's a widely accepted tool. "There is always some trend of that nature. We need people to take good concepts and instance them in the enterprise world."

Dell Takes The Stage

Speaking of enterprise companies that didn't start in the datacenter: You won't find any better example's than Dell. Michael Dell started the company in his college dorm room after getting the brainstorm that he could assemble PCs and sell them via mail order. (Trivia alert: the company was originally called PCs Limited).

Dell sells plenty of consumer PCs but the bulk of its business and investment continues to be in the enterprise space where it is, of course, a top tier player.

But given Dell's recent troubles regarding accounting questions and slowing sales, the CEO made a point of working in a few factoids about Dell's strength. He noted Dell sells more servers in the U.S. than any other company and "almost twice as many computers in the U.S. than the next competitor." He also said Dell is the largest reseller of Microsoft and VMware products.

Picking up on Ballmer's session, Dell didn't talk so much about the consumerization of IT, but he did hammer on the theme of greater simplicity.

"Our competitors live on the honey train of complexity," he said, noting that Dell has several initiatives to simplify IT, including its just announced On-Demand Desktop Streaming.

Although it made its name in desktop and servers, Dell has seen competitors take market share on the notebook computer side. So look for a big push by Dell to get back on top with mobile. Dell said his company would be introducing a tablet PC later this year, and sees a great opportunity with notebooks. "The transition to notebooks is going faster than Gartner or anyone anticipated," he said.

Another big growth area for Dell is its Data Center Solutions (DCS) division. The idea grew out of discussions last year with Dell's top ten storage and server customers worldwide. "We talked to them about general purpose solutions and they asked us to take out a lot of stuff out they didn't need and sell them what they did need," he said. "We're doing custom solutions in the span of weeks and building thousands of them. is one of many DCS customers.

"It's a large growing part of our business," said Dell.

And a long way from the dorm room.

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