CRN roundtable discussion: Commoditisation of IT

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CRN roundtable discussion: Commoditisation of IT
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The commoditisation of technology is certainly making IT managers nervous, but as the attendees at CRN's recent industry roundtable all attest, resellers are well placed to help them navigate the obstacles and realise the opportunities.

Grant Cleary, director of marketing – Ingram Micro

Scott Penno, country manager – Allied Telesis

Michael Costigan, vice president for marketing and business innovation – Avnet Asia Pacific

Mathew Old, inside sales manager - McAfee

Brett Stevens, CTO – Netcomm

Domenic Torre, managing director – D-Link

Anthony Carilla, national channel director – NEC

Hwei Oh, marketing manager – Sophos

Chris Kelly, director SMB, retail – Lenovo

Norman Weaver, managing director – Dataweave

Sydney Borg, CEO – PCS Australia

In the last 12 months we have seen a massive proliferation of handheld devices such as smart phones, tablets and the like coming into the corporate world in parallel with the intrusion of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Is this some sort of fad or passing phase? Or rather are we witnessing the birth of a truly new paradigm in business computing? Is Apple the nemesis of the traditional channel?

A leading group of influential Australian technology executives recently sat down with CRN to dissect and debate this most critical and immediate of business trends, outlining both the challenges and the opportunities presented by it.

Mathew: Definitely we see this as a serious wave that’s going to remain because the amount of devices, amount of applications, amount of different operating systems and the risk that comes with it – we are seeing this every day from a security point of view. So I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I think it’s going to be here for a long time.

Hwei: Absolutely and we are seeing the start of it, it’s huge, we are seeing a lot of organisations ramp up for the extent of how it’s actually going to affect them, so definitely it’s going to be very, very big.

CRN: Let’s talk about some of the security challenges created by the BYO devices in the corporate world.

Hwei: I think the issue is whether it is BYO or whether it is actually provided by the company itself, and I think the lines are very much blurred in terms of what people use these devices for. So, for example you are given a Blackberry to use at work, and then you might have your iPhone, or iPad and tablet – so we can see that the security implications of having multiple devices and how businesses are actually controlling what’s actually happening in terms of applications being downloaded, the types of data on each of the applications. 

Mathew: Also, it’s a viral effect that’s happening within companies. If one person comes in with a laptop, whether it’s a formal program or they just come in with their own Macintosh, and all of a sudden someone goes ‘I want to bring my own Mac in and I want to start to use this’ and so that’s automatically having an effect. You see iPads now everywhere you look throughout McAfee and throughout other companies, and you see a lot of these Mac devices coming in without formal structure, so it’s a challenge. You want that productivity. You want to give them that ability to use those devices, because a lot of time they’re better than the standard environment, but you don’t want to put your organisation at risk.

Norman: One of the issues with the small devices, your iPhones, iPads, you have access to huge amounts of data, a lot of applications, you are just logged in all the time. But it’s so easy to lose those devices. The gen Y workers, your friends may not have such a corporate focus mentality shall we say. If you’ve actually got somebody who’s got some malicious intent, it’s very much easier to get into the network, or access data. Things like Dropbox are great, it means you’ve got access to your data locally on your iPad, it’s the only way to get data in a lot of sense, but it means it’s there, and if you lose that device, you lose the data. So it’s now much more difficult to secure corporate data.

Mathew: Absolutely. From a CRM having a back end database, you can now get information and access just from a simple little device like that on your iPad and it’s so easy to download the free app that allows you to access that CRM and have your sales data on that device, and I don’t know how many people have lost their phone in a taxi or anywhere else.

Anthony: How do you integrate policy around the use of social media for instance with dissemination of information? It’s going to become a real challenge, because change is going to demand the integration of social media norms and how do you apply security policy and processes around that’s going to be very challenging and a real problem I would think.

Scott: When is someone acting as their own individual in fixing something, they’re doing something in their own right as a person, and when are they representing the company, because of the whole social media thing – there are a lot of positives that come out from that. There are also a lot of negatives as well, if say your branding is misrepresented in the market. At what point are you representing the organisation versus expressing a personal view?

Norman: At all times we set our company policy which is part of our employment contract, and any time of day or night they are not allowed to post anything critical of us as their employer or our customers, or our business partners. They are not allowed – if they criticise them in a social media site or whatever, they are effectively breaking their employment contract, because these days you post something like that, even if it’s in your own personal time, or on your own personal Facebook, it’s still reflecting badly on you as your employee, and you’ve got to do that. It’s still only paper and a contract or whatever, but at least it’s trying to draw their attention to it, and this is actually a serious affair.

Grant: I noted recently with the Qantas grounding the fleet, someone posted a personal message on Twitter, expressing their concern about it, that they’d been personally affected. And I thought ‘hang on Qantas are a major customer of the business you’re employed by – so is it such a good idea to be doing that?’ – and yet he would see it that he was making personal comment.

Sydney: Speaking from the reseller’s point of view, I’m starting from the roots up on this. We’re talking about the fact that people are bringing in their own hardware. My biggest concern is that if I’m not controlling the hardware in my accounts, I’ve already lost stage one and I have to tell you I’m not a fan in allowing staff to bring in their own laptops or their own personal devices to use on the network – I’ve been in this game probably too long, 35 years, and I have to tell you that I’ve been a believer that if I don’t own the hardware, and I’m not putting in the integration and all the equipment that’s going in there, I don’t have control of the account. There’s another major reason why I have to do that, and that is that I’m not an Apple reseller. The amount of Apple iPads and iPhones that are going out there stops me from selling what used to be an NEC laptop, but it stops me selling the current vendors that I support. None of those vendors are Apple orientated.  So that is a significant threat to the normal channel in my opinion. So it’s all very nice to have the protective software and all the rules and regulations, but I want to own the account.

Mathew: But does that present an opportunity for you guys as well? Look at the infrastructure that’s needed to build out something like the cloud servers, but then you’re looking at big servers, you’re looking at virtualisation in the environment, and a whole range of other things that then means that the game changes. Is that what you’re seeing as well?

Sydney: Yes, but you still have to own those other devices. If I allow Apple to come into the game, I don’t understand Apple, so that is an issue. I can pick up an Android phone and there are similarities, but if I’m not involved in that Apple scenario, then I’m allowing that organisation to get into my account and gain strength. The next thing you know there will be Apple servers going in there and the whole domain changes. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and I’m dead against it for obvious reasons.

Scott: Surely where you’ve already got telcos and service providers that are not only providing the carriage, but they're also delivering that mobile device. It’s not that you’ve lost part of the account, but there are always multiple organisations involved with that customer so it’s really all about being able to integrate with, or work with, rather than name one or the other.

Sydney: Yes, but the trick to that is, be a carrier as well. If you want to be a systems integrator, then you’ve got to be A to Z right, you’ve got to be able to carry the whole thing, and try where possible to plug every hole you can from stopping anybody else from getting in there. Because once you own the account, then you own it. The problem with our industry nowadays and it’s certainly in the channel, is knowing there isn’t a lot of time out there to go out finding a lot of new accounts, but you damn well have to maintain the ones you have, and if you hold on to what you have, then you have some guarantee of some success or surviving.

Norman: But I don’t think you need to become a carrier. What’s going to happen is that the telephony carriers, the Telstras, the Vodafones are just going to get more and more power. Already the struggle we have in managing our telephony bill because we get a new employee, I say ‘right now you’re on the corporate plan’ and they say ‘Oh no, I’ve just bought this iPhone, and I’m on a three-year contract, and I can’t get Siemens to give me an iPhone’.

Sydney: But you can sell them that service. If you become a carrier and you can be, we’re a Telstra shop as well, so at the end of the day, you’ve got to say ‘well I can provide that as well’ – so it’s not a matter of just allowing if I want my friend to buy my phone and go and buy it from another carrier, the trick is to become a carrier, become a cabler.

Norman: But that’s going contra to the whole outsourcing philosophy. The whole point is to focus on your core business.

Sydney: I’m talking from a systems integrator point of view, not the client.

Norman: But just generally then and from an enterprise computing perspective, from an organisation whether it be a Westpac or a German manufacturer, the challenge he’s got in terms of this proliferation of devices, I’m seeing the carriers are going to get more and more strength, because the device is on the end of it and gets tied to plans, so the iPad is coming with a 3G, everything is coming with a 3G or 4G card with it, and then the carriers have got the ability to bundle things together with the service delivery, and that takes away from you as a reseller, and the reseller has the power to sell the devices individually.

Sydney: Yes, but it doesn’t take it away if you provide that product. They can go to Telstra, they can go to Optus or go to Vodafone, but if they can come to PCS Australia, then I can still supply the mobile phones on a plan, on a Telstra plan or whatever, then I’ve got them.

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