The user is the consumer is the employee is the enterprise
November 10th, 2010 by ravi

Three year olds are clever people. Take the example of my son who vehemently resisted our pleadings to ingest more food: “My stomach is full. There is just no place left for any more food”. But his resistance turned to enthusiasm when, just a few moments later, some ice cream made an appearance. Upon being reminded that by his own admission his stomach was out of room, he scoffed dismissively: “That’s my stomach for food. Ice cream goes into a different tummy“.

It is less humorous and hardly clever when a corporation adopts this line of defence. Nevertheless, time and again, this is the very approach employed by corporations both vending products and selecting them. Like most subterfuges the effect is achieved through wordplay, in this instance the [mostly] false dichotomy created using the words ‘consumer’ and ‘enterprise’.

The history of computing, in particular, is replete with what awaits those taking this line. All through the 1990s, sitting on fat server margins, Unix vendors (Sun, HP, others) ignored end-user computing and the desktop (while simultaneously mounting hilarious attempts to subsume it: remember Sun’s WABI running Windows poorly on $10,000 Sun workstations?). Microsoft was just not a real or credible threat. Today, the majority server platform is Windows, Sun is dead, IBM is writing software, and HP is selling printers and Windows systems. And such is the case precisely because the user is the consumer is the employee is the enterprise.

This history hardly informs the narratives of today. We are an enterprise product, say vendors under threat from the design and UX sophistication of products from Apple Computer (which just a few days ago cancelled their hardware server product line, Xserve, because “nobody was buying them” — refreshing honesty is rare but possible). At a pace matching the assembly line of impoverished workers at Apple’s Chinese suppliers, firewalls of bluster and bureaucracy are being assembled by competitors incapable or unwilling to compete on quality and IT organisations unwilling to adapt (or hobbled by bean-counting from adapting).

But much like the proverbial bee that persists in flying despite the finding of scientists that it lacks the wingspan to do so, people (“consumers”, “employees”) adopt and use technologies that offer the best experience and functionality, notwithstanding the primarily self-serving classifications of manufacturers and corporate “decision makers”. Setting aside “business users” with a Blackberry hangover, few today find it meaningful to talk in nebulous terms of a consumer smartphone or an enterprise smartphone.

On the enterprise front, denial is not always the case. Enlightened corporations have come to recognise that usage of computers and networks is an integral part of the lives of individuals these days and the concerns of these users, and consequently their productivity, is a much larger factor than bean-counting support costs (a nebulous notion to begin with). These corporations have acknowledged this fact at various levels starting from merely accommodating foreign devices/systems/applications, supporting them at the infrastructure end, to, in the rare case, purchasing them for the employee.

Coming back to my son, the value of a well-balanced diet is a reason to insist on vegetables and bread along with ice cream, all of which are food and all of which end up in the same tummy. No such strong reason underwrites the slicing, dicing and rationing of technological devices or services. Marie Antionette didn’t get the meta point either. The people don’t want her to be the arbiter of whether they eat bread … or cake.

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