Six epic battles that will shape the workplace of the future

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Since we launched CITEworld in October, we've thought a lot about what the site should be about. The word "consumerization" is loaded -- a lot of people associate it with the rise of smartphones and tablets in the workplace, particularly devices that users bring to work themselves.

But the idea is a lot broader than that. The technology landscape is going through one of its periodic upheavals, as several big trends -- increasingly powerful mobile devices, cloud computing, and real-time social collaboration and communication -- come together. The interesting part: these trends started in the consumer world, and are only now moving into the enterprise.

As consumer technology and ideas move into the workplace, some epic battles are underway. The outcome of these battles will affect the entire tech landscape -- IT departments, vendors, resellers, and investors. And most important, end-users. (Or, as I sometimes call them, "people.")

For instance:

  • Windows vs. not-Windows. A decade ago, the work environment on the client side was Windows plus a few Macs and BlackBerries. Now, most workplaces are seeing a big influx of iOS devices and Android phones. (Android tablets -- not yet.) These growing cracks in Windows have emboldened other platforms to take a shot, from the Google-backed Chrome OS to a whole host of standards-based and open-source mobile alternatives. The platform battle has huge implications not just for the primary vendors (Microsoft, Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung, Google, and so on), but also for all the follow-on vendors who sell and service these devices. Forget Steve Ballmer – he’ll be fine no matter how this comes out. How does this affect the person who’s built his software company or consultancy or IT career around a particular technology that is losing relevance? How does this open opportunities for new companies, new approaches, and new people?

  • Young vs. old. The generation entering the workplace has grown up with an abundance of consumer-friendly technology: mobile phones, social networks, and an infinity of searchable web resources to provide every imaginable type of information. When they come to work, they expect to be able to do their jobs using tools that are similarly convenient and accessible -- and if those tools aren't available, they're savvy enough to find their own. (Although they may not always be savvy about the risks.) This provides a huge opening for new enterprise companies who take design seriously and build for users over IT departments; and huge challenges for vendors who thought they could take their position in the enterprise for granted.

  • IT vs. user. This leads into the next major battle going on in the workplace. IT departments have to think about security and data loss -- if the company jewels get out on a public web site, they will lose their job. But if the tools are too cumbersome, users will bypass them. Is it “rogue IT”? Or is it workers improving their productivity despite the best efforts of Mordac the Preventer?

  • IT vs. line of business. IT used to control the tech budget. Now a huge amount of it has been decentralized to line-of-business units – HR has a tech budget, marketing has a tech budget, sales has a tech budget, and so on. In addition, a lot of services are so cheap that individuals or small teams can start using them simply with a credit card. What does that mean for the future of IT? How do IT departments stay relevant? Does the entire role go away?

  • Selling to execs vs “land and expand." In my recent conversations with enterprise startups, I've noticed two very different approaches. Some vendors, like Jive, approach IT managers or line-of-business execs and sell to them, using concepts like return-on-investment and revenue generation and expense cutting. Others, like YouSendIt, believe that if you build a great tool for end-users, they’ll bring it into the organization and the productivity will naturally follow. Both types of companies feel very strongly that their approach is best. Who’s right? What are the implications of each approach to employees and IT?

  • Startup deathmatch.I recently heard a VC compare his business to a little kids' soccer game -- the ball moves and everybody chases at the same time. But a string of disappointing consumer tech IPOs (Groupon, Zynga, Facebook) means that a lot of VCs are suddenly focusing on the enterprise, which means there’s an ocean of venture money flowing into enterprise startups now. There are dozens of new-breed enterprise companies, from two-person startups to big players Workday and Box, competing in each area: social collaboration, file sharing, enterprise project management, mobile device management, social marketing – you name it. Meanwhile, the traditional vendors are trying to learn the game by snapping up the brightest stars, sometimes at a price of billions of dollars. Odds are that most of these companies will not be around in a decade. But which ones? Who’s actually got real paying customers? Who’s riding their venture funding with fingers crossed until they can build a real business?

These are the issues that CITEworld will be covering from the front lines. We hope you'll join us.

Have we missed anything? Any areas we need to bone up on? Sound off in comments below...

[See also: What is consumerization, and why should you care?]

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