We constantly encounter headlines about how tablets are killing PC sales. That doesn't mean computers are disappearing from the workplace, but it does mean the way you buy them for business use will change dramatically. Here are some key issues to consider when doing that.
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These ideas come from a session presented by research VP Stephen Kleynhans at the recent Gartner Symposium event in Queensland. Kleynhans points out that the traditional approach to manufacturing and selling computers -- one which has been largely unchanged since the early 1980s -- is now seeing a radical shift:
The PC industry as we knew it is fundamentally broken. The PC market has crashed and it's not coming back. This is not a blip. Sales will continue to shrink for a while and then get onto some small growth, but we're never going to get back to the market we had five years ago.
The major driver of that change has been the shift to bring-your-own-device and the adoption of alternative form factors. "Technologies are becoming mainstream faster than the IT organisation can absorb them, and this pace of change is accelerating," Kleynhans said. "You're not a dictator -- now you guide the organisation."
One major issue for business is that the buying cycles for non-traditional form factors are much shorter. "We're going through a very unsettled period when it comes to form factors," Kleynhans noted. "There will be a lot of experimentation and a lot of rapid obsolescence. The life cycle on the average tablet is slightly under two years, and on phones it's under 18 months."
Yet even if those devices can be sourced appropriately, traditional PCs aren't going away. If nothing else, where else is the development of all those tablet and mobile apps going to happen? But BYOD also messes with enterprise management for computers, especially laptops.
"The enterprise side of the business are being attacked by the consumer side of the business and it's getting harder and harder to justify enterprise class devices over consumer class devices. Traditional management tools many times require enterprise class devices, so those techniques start to break down," Kleynhans said.
"This is a massive change, and begs the question: do I still need an enterprise client device and an enterprise client vendor? You need to think about that going forward. We probably will evolve over the next few years away from that."
Large computing contracts have often relied on a single supplier. That's a model Gartner itself has advocated in the past, but its position has shifted.
"For seven or eight years, we've been very clear in our recommendation that you should be single-sourcing your PC purchasing from a single vendor," Kleynhans said. "The competition in the industry has kept them honest. You keep your wood behind one arrow. But now we think you need to have a second supplier in the wings, because there is so much risk that your primary vendor might suddenly not be a vendor any more. You should not be looking at the devices themselves as the way you differentiate."
"The average selling prices have shrunk to the level that it's questionable whether it's sustainable. PC makers are losing money in significant ways. The situation's untenable. The likelihood is some of the guys are going to get out of it. I don't think there's a single PC manufacturer today that I would guarantee will still be making PCs five years from now, and yet some of you are signing three-to-five year contracts.
Under those circumstances, support is often a bigger issue than the actual specifications. "Put a strong focus on the support the vendors are proving," Kleynhans advised. "The hardware will take care of itself. None of the vendors are producing really bad hardware."
The bottom line? You can't stick with your current approach. ""Everything you have in place today to support your end users -- every tool, every process, every policy -- will be changed over the next five years," Kleynhans said. "Some will be thrown out, some will be slightly modified, but every single aspect will be impacted. Everything will change."
"The traditional IT environments you have today will continue to exist for a very long time, especially when compliance matters," Kleynhans said. "The enterprise client is disappearing, but enterprise client computing will continue." So you need a PC buying plan, but a more flexible one than you may have used before.