Four big technology trends are converging in your mobile phone, where they might just change the way you work.
The first trend is cloud computing, which as you probably know involves applications and data living in a data centre somewhere in the world. Cloud computing sees you use applications through a web browser, instead of installing software on your hard disk. Plenty of cloud applications have become business mainstays – the likes of Dropbox, Google Apps, and Salesforce.com are standard issue at more and more businesses.
The second trend is “the consumerisation of IT” and refers to the fact that consumers’ technology choices now fuel business innovation. A decade ago, the best computer most people used was the one in the office. Since then computers have become so cheap that many people’s home computer is better than the one at work. Consumers have also adopted smartphones at a fantastic rate and often bring them to work and ask why they can’t get email on their handsets, rather than being forced to make do with less-functional phones that are standard corporate issue. This means the consumer tail is wagging the business dog, because business has to figure out how to tune it’s IT to reach people using consumer technology devices to work and play.
The third trend has been called “BYO IT” and it follows on from consumerisation by suggesting that business should let workers chose the device they work on in the office. Today, if your office uses PCs instead of Macs, you force Mac-lovers to use a PC. BYO IT theory says you should just let your Mac-loving staff have a Mac. If they want a laptop – the preferred computer for younger people - you should let them bring it to work and use it there. If they want a new laptop you should even consider chipping in to help them to buy it, because they’ll be happier and more productive than if you force them to use a stodgy office PC. You’ll also get flexibility – if you staff take their computer home with them, they’re more likely to help out after hours.
The fourth big trend is called “the post-PC era.” This trend is partly hype – Apple and others doing well with non-PC devices want to stick it to Microsoft – and part reality, because the proliferation of smartphones means the majority of devices connected to the Internet aren’t computers. Instead, all sorts of different tablets and smartphones now dominate the Internet.
Trends converge in the phone
What have these four trends got to do with your mobile phone?
Software company VMware has this week, at its VMworld 2011 conference, outlined a way to take the applications and data you use around the office – be they conventional or cloud apps – and bundle them all up into a special, walled-off area in your mobile. Within that walled-off area it’s as if you are logged in to your office. All the stuff on ‘your’ phone (games, music, Facebook and so on) cannot be accessed.
When you want to go back to doing that personal stuff, you’ll close the walled-off environment and cannot pollute the walled-off work environment.
You get to work on your phone, which thanks to the consumerisation of IT is something you really want to do. Your employer gets a highly-mobile worker who won’t complain about being forced to use a device they don’t like. You both get cloud apps, because cloud really makes sense on mobile devices.
At VMworld 2011 Vmware announced that Samsung and LG have signed a deal that will mean their mobile phones are ready to do this kind of thing.
We’ve seen demos that even included running Windows on the small screen of a smartphone.
VMware has also told us that it is talking to carriers around the world about this kind of service, so that they can host the reasonably-hefty IT that is required to set it all up. All you’ll do is click on a few screens and determine which apps and information sources are allowed onto your teams phones. They’ll download a single app onto their phones and the rest will happen ‘automagically’ as they say in the computer industry.
This may all sound like a big investment for a small business, but it is worth keeping an eye on this development for two reasons.
One is that smartphones get more sophisticated every week. Plenty can already connect to a monitor and keyboard, so you could plug them in and enjoy an experience that is not a million miles away from using a PC. Another is that all the work that goes into delivering this stuff on a smartphone can also simplify conventional PCs and make them cheaper to run. So mobilising your office in a split-personality phone will also cut costs in your office.
Today this is all pretty geeky stuff. But the winds of change are getting stronger and before long operating a conventional PC with software you install on a hard drive will look archaic, expensive and inflexible. Instead, VMware believes, we’ll all spend more time on tablets and our data and apps will be in the cloud.
For now, the split personality phones we’ll see soon from LG and Samsung will mean you can let your team have the phones they want without worrying about security. That’s a win all by itself.
VMware is also working to make this same arrangement possible on tablet computers and, indeed, just about any type of device you can imagine. It is doing so because its management feels it might just be the harbinger of a new type of work. Today, the company says, we work in ways that revolve around documents because PCs were developed to streamline processes that revolved around shuffling bits of paper around a business. While no-one is sure just how we’ll work in the future, VMware feels that by making it possible to access data anywhere, instead of worrying about which device you use, it can help us all to become more productive.
Simon Sharwood travelled to VMworld 2011 in Las Vegas as a guest of VMware.