Enterprise Communications

Consumer-Grade Stops Being a Bad Word for the Enterprise

by Michael Brandenburg 29 Mar 2012
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In a recent conversation with Alcatel-Lucent about their new OpenTouch Conversation app for the iPad, a simple comment was made in passing that has stuck with me for the last several days. The suggestion was made that the iPad was the right platform for their application, providing a “consumer-quality user experience, rather than the typical enterprise one”.

It was not that long ago when “consumer-grade” was a derogatory term around professionals. Most photographers still scoff at the notion of anything other than a high-end Nikon or Canon for their work and you likely never see an auto mechanic buying tools from a discount store. Likewise, the notion of running down to the nearest big box store to purchase a network switch, router, or access point for use in the office would send shivers down the spine of most IT practitioners.

The aversion to consumer devices within many enterprises carried over into mobile devices. “Enterprise-grade” mobile devices, both smart phones and tablets, tend to focus heavily on the qualities that IT professionals care about most, management and security, at times relegating the end-user experience as a second-tier feature. Back in the days when Blackberry was at the top of the heap, its devices were highly praised for its strong management and security features, but one would be hard pressed to ever consider the user experience it delivered as anything other than utilitarian. Consumers, also known as enterprise end users, ultimately tolerated these mobile devices, largely because it was the only way to get connected to enterprise systems.

Then came the iPhone, bringing with it a user-friendly user interface backed with solid hardware. Unlike their corporate issued Blackberries, consumers were actually willing to spring for one out of their own pocket. Enterprise management and security features were literally an afterthought for Apple, pushed to make their decidedly consumer device integrate with the corporate systems. Consumers continue to buy Apple devices by the millions, while the enterprise stalwarts Microsoft and RIM have both gone back to the drawing board to make their devices more user-friendly.

So to hear an enterprise UC vendor like Alcatel-Lucent flip the argument about consumer devices strikes a chord. The company’s iPad-first approach is a testament to the disappearing distinction between the consumer and enterprise grades.

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