The post-PC era is defined by apps

Those simple little apps completely changed end user expectations. Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

Life used to be a fairly simple proposition for IT pros. You controlled the software, the hardware, and the data center. Nobody questioned your authority because it was all so complicated, and you were the expert.

Then a monumental shift happened: mobile.

But it wasn't simply the ability to have these computers in our pockets that changed life forever in IT. It was the simplicity of the apps on these devices. Apps give users exactly -- and only -- what they need to get a specific task done, and they're easy to figure out and use.

A few years ago, I saw Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, speak and it was the first time I heard someone talk about enterprise user frustration. In Moore's estimation, users were finding tools on the web and on their phones that were so easy to use, yet when they came into work, they were dealing with obtuse tools they had to fight to get their work done.

Users quickly saw this disconnect, and as smartphone and tablets have proliferated, this chasm has only widened. At a presentation at The AIIM Conference last month, 451 Research Analyst, Alan Pelz-Sharpe said that apps had a major impact on the enterprise because they introduced the radical notion of simplicity.

Pelz-Sharpe said we were moving away from the mindset of a website with 57 options. We crave little apps to do little jobs just as we find on our smartphones. Instead of huge intranets, we want apps for scheduling vacation and apps for finding experts. "We don't have to give everything to everybody all the time. We're fed up with it," he told the audience.

In James McQuivey's new book Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, he talks a lot about how simple, free tools are having a big impact on innovation precisely due to the impact they have had on end user expectations.

"Because what has changed," McQuivey wrote "is consumer's ability to get what they want. This has lead them to believe their needs can and should be met..." As Moore foresaw years ago, consumers saw an easy way to do things and they weren't going to put up with software and hardware that was hard to use.

On top of that, we truly are in the midst of a mobile shift to the post-PC era as PC sales have plummeted. As Matt Rosoff wrote the other day, "The PC isn't dead, but it sure doesn't look like a great market to be in right now." And there is a straight line from these easy-to-use mobile devices to the decline of PC sales today.

These shifts have made life more complicated for IT departments who are used to controlling their workers. Where you could simply put up a roadblock or a stop sign in years past, today any user with a modicum of technical savvy can find a tool to get around your restrictions.

For workers, it's simply about finding tools to get their work done. That means instead of dictating policy, it has to become much more of a partnership because IT clearly still has a role to play. As Laurence Hart, AIIM CIO put it in his keynote address last month speaking of IT pros, "Our needs still matter. We still have to run the business."

He's right, but there's been a fundamental shift in user expectations, bordering on a sense of entitlement -- all driven by the simplicity of using little granular apps on mobile devices. This has forced forward-thinking IT pros to shift their roles from what one CIO called "racking and stacking" to finding ways to work with users to give  what they expect and demand. Smart IT pros realize if they don't, many users will find a way to do it themselves.

[See also: Thinking of tablets only as a new form factor misses the point]

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