When will tablets replace "corporate" PCs?

Tablets and other smart handheld devices have captured the public's imagination, and "corporate" IT has become increasingly influenced and driven by "consumer" IT developments. Many IT professionals have begun wondering out loud when PCs might be...

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Tablets and other smart handheld devices have captured the public's imagination, and "corporate" IT has become increasingly influenced and driven by "consumer" IT developments. Many IT professionals have begun wondering out loud when PCs might be replaced/displaced by media tablets. Over the course of the past 90 days, the topic has come up repeatedly in my conversations with many IT buyers. This blog posting excerpts IDC research report #228806 that I published in June 2011 with co-author, Bob O'Donnell. In May, during a telebriefing, I took the opportunity to survey the 203 participants (principally enterprise IT buyers responsible for PC or server acquisition or life-cycle management strategies) seeking to understand when they believed tablets may supplant PCs in a typical corporate setting. A qualitative survey of 53 participating IT buyers found that 39% expected tablets would be capable of replacing PCs in less than 36 months. Their responses are tabulated and presented in Figure 1 which is at the bottom of this page. Based on the responses to the question of when tablets are expected to replace PCs, the mean is 45 months; the largest percentage of respondents, 29.6%, selected 24-35 months. This survey is not quantitatively sound as only 53 individuals participated; typically, IDC would seek at least 100 and preferably 200 or more participants. In addition, biases were introduced because participants were skewed based on the size of the company they represented. Therefore, considering the geographic location, organisation size, and limited data sample size, these results cannot be viewed as statistically sound. Rather, they should be viewed as "interesting." Correlating this survey data with the qualitative discussions we have had with IT buyers, it is clear that a sizable percentage of IT executives expect tablets to displace PCs as the primary "corporate" device within two years. Another (larger) group of executives are more conservative and believe tablets will not evolve to the point where they are able to replace PCs that quickly and will retain primacy for three, four, or more years. So why such differences in outlook? Some IT executives expect tablets to be enterprise-ready within two years; others think it will take twice that long. The answer I think, in one word, applications. The truth is, people often underestimate how long these kinds of transitions take, and the reality is that application support will govern tablet uptake and virtually all of the custom applications in typical enterprises were built for Windows. Porting them to tablet operating systems (OSs), at this point, is a nontrivial exercise. For many budget- and resource-constrained organisations, resources to port applications to new OSs will come only when there is a clear pan-enterprise call to invest the resources. For organisations that have few custom applications, the expectation of a 2 to 3 year window may well be reasonable. Organisations, businesses, and governmental entities are organic entities that evolve, ebb, and flow driven by their people, industry practices, and governance constraints. Typically, a change such as the transition from PCs to tablets will likely be driven first by employees and individual managers rather than by an overall governance framework. IDC believes we will first move through a "device deluge" before governance practices are enacted to constrain the number of devices. In fact, many organisations are already well into this state — how many employees in a typical organisation carry a company-supplied (or -funded) PC and smartphone (such as a BlackBerry)? A bit of reflection back to the late 1990s reminds us of the highly touted enterprise governance initiatives of the day that were being enacted — the "one PC per employee or else" mandate! IDC believes the path for tablets will traverse many of these same roads. A range of devices will continue to flow into organisations, whether as incentives for top-performing employees or personal purchases made by gadgiks (individuals who must have the latest technical device). IT organisations are already being challenged to provide connectivity to enterprise systems, often without the funding for management and security tools. Organisations in this situation, virtually by definition, will find themselves "deluged" without an anticipatory governance strategy constraining the number and types of devices. In the full report, we recommended that IT organisations embrace the inevitable now and form an advisory group to mediate the evolving desires/requirements/devices debate. PCs, both the acquisition and support components, compose a significant fraction of the IT budget, and tablets and smart handhelds will vie for a slice of this same constrained resource pot. What do you think? Posted by Joe Pucciarelli
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