19 Jul 2012
IT is now rarely business driven, but increasingly consumer led as most individuals have access to faster, smarter and smaller technology at home than that provided by their employers. New generations of ‘digital natives’, moving from pocket money-funded to independently-earning buyers of devices, have further fuelled the growth of consumer-friendly information and communications technology.
There are also increasing numbers of older ‘silver surfers’ getting to grips with technology, especially now that many products are becoming easier to use, more accessible and sold with less jargon (well, a little less…). Arguably they can afford to spend a little more on technology and improvements means it has more appeal now, they probably will.
But there is another group of technology buyers who have sophisticated technology needs and crucially money to spend. We might at one time called some of them ‘pro-sumers’, but these are business users of the distributed, connected and outsourced age. With the consumerisation of IT and a shift to part-time, virtual company and portfolio working patterns appealing to middle-aged workers, these could be termed ‘Internet connected Professionals Actively Down Shifting’ or IPADS.
How many are they? Precise current numbers are difficult to pin down, but research conducted by insurance company Prudential in 2003 indicated over 1.4 million downshifters in the UK, and anecdotal evidence suggests this number is growing. There are also increasing numbers of self-employed, mobile and flexible working practices.
So what about their needs?
Do they have a geeky interest in the technology? Unlikely. Do they have IT support? Rarely. Do they have mega-budgets to invest in expensive solutions? No. But do they need effective and reliable communications and information support tools? Yes.
Technology vendors have been pushing many ’-bilities’ in recent years, with scalability and flexibility often at the top. Scalability to grow incrementally as needs change is a fine thing for a soaring start-up or large enterprise, but it means little to IPADS.
Flexibility on the other hand is fine, but for most IPADS it is table stakes. They have thrown off the corporate shackles in order to give themselves ultimate flexibility (and responsibility) and expect their IT to be just as flexible. This does not mean just the technical flexibility of open or standards based technology, but also the location flexibility of being mobile and working from anywhere. A varied and portfolio style business model means most will also need complete commercial flexibility – embodied by the emergence of user purchasable cloud-based services – XaaS – anything as a service.
So the other important ‘-bilities’ are two thirds of what used to be called RAS – reliability, availability and serviceability. IPADS, like many technology users are no longer really interested in serviceability (replacement being more often prevalent in a throw away society), but they do want everything to work, constantly and consistently, reliable and available when required.
With flexibility and XaaS as the norm, number one on the IPAD agenda for reliability is network connectivity; fixed, probably, but mobile most definitely. As they are individuals there are limits to the amount of capacity they need, but reliability of connection is vital. Even low cost consumer broadband service providers can manage to deliver pretty high up time, but mobile networks are a different matter – especially as coverage has to include home office and expected places of mobile working. If their down shifting has included relocation, it’s likely that somewhere picturesque, but remote will have been chosen, so connectivity may be patchy.
Which begs the question. If decades ago the TV industry managed to work out a way of broadcasting rich media over old fashioned analogue to an entire nation, why does the communications industry still struggle to get its digital bits – fixed over fibre or high speed wireless - into the far corners? Reliable coverage still matters (just ask O2 customers) and there are more and more people who will pay if it supports their lifestyle.
Rob Bamforth - principal analyst, business communications, Quocirca