Consumerization Of IT A Double-Edged Sword For The Channel

What started as a buzz word describing the influx of consumer devices spilling into enterprises around the globe, the “consumerization of IT” has developed rapidly into a very real push toward corporate efficiency.

So much so, in fact, that executives are embracing the once-feared bring-your-own device (BYOD) phenomenon and even encouraging employees to use personal devices for business needs.

And like any new trend in the enterprise, the growing need to conduct business from anywhere at any time means growth opportunities for the channel – but maybe not all of it. While networking and cloud service providers stand to benefit from the corporate world’s shift toward consumerism (although perhaps not as much as one would think), the BYOD trend could potentially hurt the business of traditional hardware VARs.

George Usi, president of Sacramento, Calif.-based solution provider SacTech, has noticed the push his enterprise clients are making toward the consumerization of IT. Most of that push, he said, is being driven from the top-down. But after an executive gives employees the green light to work from personal devices, security almost always becomes a fear.

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"The downside for them is the inability to control the asset," Usi said. "The employee now owns the asset; what happens if they drop it? What happens if it gets lost? How do I make sure the device is wiped? How do I put software on that device to make sure if it’s wiped, only my corporate data gets wiped. So that’s where some security problems present themselves."

One of the ways corporations are readying themselves for a BYOD security breach is by turning to the cloud, Usi explained. By hosting any sensitive data on the cloud, rather than the device itself, the risk of a breach is eliminated if the device is lost.

As a Juniper and Google partner, Usi has already started to notice a higher demand for security, networking, and cloud services among his client base, as it grapples to deal with an array of mobile devices coming into the workplace. "We are experiencing a growth that we know would have been impossible without this consumerization process," Usi told CRN.

Ryan McCune, senior director of innovation and incubation at Avanade, a Seattle, Wash.-based managed service provider, has noticed a similar growth pattern. "We are getting a lot of inquiries and a lot of demand around a few areas related to consumerization," McCune said.

One of the biggest requests McCune cited was infrastructure support for rolling out a greater number of business applications to a greater number of mobile users. Demand for the implementation and management of business-specific software, such as customer relationship management (CRM) apps, on employees’ personal devices is noticeably rising, he said.

But while SacTech and Avanade have seen growth from the BYOD trend, demand for solution providers who can help manage this shift isn’t as widespread as some may think – at least not yet.

McCune said Avanade sent out a survey in October that received 605 responses from C-level execs and IT decision-makers across 17 countries. Of those respondents, a staggering 88 percent said they already allow employees to use personal devices for business purposes. And 60 percent of those respondents said they are adapting their IT infrastructures to accommodate that shift.

But what Avanade also discovered is that an even more staggering 75 percent of IT decision makers feel their in-house IT departments today are already equipped to handle the infrastructure changes needed to support a "consumerized" environment. While this number may grow over the next few years as security concerns mount, it still puts to rest the notion that the BYOD trend has triggered an immediate need for external services within the enterprise.

NEXT: Where BYOD Hurts: Traditional Resellers and System Builders

The consumerization trend points to future growth for security, infrastructure, and networking service providers. But its more immediate effect on the channel, particularly on traditional resellers and system builders, may not be such a positive one.

Allan Walters, senior vice president at Saratoga Technologies, a Johnson City, Tenn.-based solution provider, told CRN that his business is split into thirds: one third traditional VAR, one third managed services, and one third cloud services. Walters said he is seeing a small amount of growth in each of these areas due to the BYOD trend, but hasn’t noticed a significant jump in business just yet.

Part of this, Walters noted, could be that his client base doesn’t include major enterprises, so demand for outside support of a massive roll-out of mobile devices simply isn’t there. But Saratoga Technologies is still receiving a growing number of case-by-case requests for BYOD-related networking, he said.

"How we see [BYOD] is one of our clients calls up and says, 'hey, I bought an iPad this weekend and I can’t get my email, can you set it up?' And so that’s what we’re getting, is really lots and lots of one-off, 'hey, I just got this can you help me set it up?' And so it might be extra revenue initially, it might be a small amount of extra revenue in an on-going fashion," Walters said. "But it’s so small; it’s just a nice added bit of revenue. It’s not a huge, changing-the-world kind of thing."

But the BYOD might be a changing-the-world kind of thing for traditional resellers, Walters said, whose PC businesses may take a hit as more and more mobile devices replace traditional desktops and laptops in the workplace.

"If you’re an old, old school VAR, where you actually make a substantial part of your money in the actual selling of products, my complete assumption would be that this is probably negatively impacting your business because more and more of these [mobile] devices are readily available through retail channels, and so your ability to kind of command the 'I’m-the-only-place-in-town-to-buy-this' thing is completely diminished," Walters explained.

Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based solution provider, affirmed Walter’s line of thinking, saying the explosion of mobile devices into the corporate world has certainly "been an adjustment" on the custom-built PC side of his business. "Obviously, the entire client side of the PC industry is changing with the advent of smartphone and tablets, which is affecting all of us selling custom PCs for a living," he told CRN.

Swank noted that he has seen the "writing on the wall" for years now – as far back as the introduction of notebooks, even – and luckily is able to counter the hit on his custom PC business with growth in other areas, such as high-performance computing (HPC) and servers.

"Our business has continued to grow," he said. "Our whitebox PC business has tailed off, but growth in high-performance computing has helped offset that."

The BYOD trend may force traditional resellers to explore new avenues of business, but Walters does believe consumerization will eventually award service providers more revenue. As more and more security breaches arise as a result of business users working remotely from iPads and other mobile devices, the need for security management services will most definitely rise. "As people get burned," he said, "their attitudes will change."

But for now, any additional business his company receives as a result of the BYOD movement is simply an addendum to the rest of its agenda.

"It’s good, it’s positive, we’ll take it," Walters said. "But right now more it’s more like icing on the cake as opposed to another layer."