Consumer technology took center stage in January, with the International Consumer Electronics Show spotlighting some 20,000 products and with Apple Computer Inc. debuting its long-anticipated tablet.
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But do IT channel players care? Some channel executives contend they should, citing the influence of consumer technology on small business customers, its potential to erupt suddenly within enterprises, and the security impact of consumer devices on corporate networks.
Dave Sobel, chief executive officer of Evolve Technologies, attended CES and said VARs targeting small businesses can't afford to ignore consumer electronics, given the blurring lines between IT and CE. Evolve Technologies focuses on the SMB market, working with customers with as few as five to 10 employees.
"High-end consumer and low-end professionals almost tend to be the same thing sometimes," Sobel said. Simply put, an exec who uses a gadget for personal use usually ends up using it at work too.
He noted that SMB VARs need to be jacks of all trades, monitoring general business trends, enterprise technology, and consumer electronics as well as products specifically targeting small businesses.
"It's dangerous to dismiss any one set of trends," he noted.
D&H Distributing Co., which serves reseller customers catering to SMBs, finds that a sizable chunk of its consumer electronics business -- some 35% -- flows through IT VARs.
Jeff Davis, senior vice president of sales at D&H Distributing, said resellers are encountering the convergence of business IT and consumer technology in many areas including mobile computing and storage. Netbooks, for example, have taken off with both home users and businesses.
This overlap also occurs in storage and back-up.
"High-performance storage and data back-up is being used on the home network to store data, photos, movies and music; and in small business environments to store and secure critical redundant data," Davis said.
Consumer technology penetrates businesses of all sizes
Consumer technology isn't strictly a concern for SMB VARs. Sobel said resellers pursuing larger businesses would also do well to monitor consumer electronics, keeping tabs on disruptive devices. He pointed to Apple's iPhone as a device that started out as a consumer product and found its way to the enterprise.
Apple's new iPad tablet appears poised to follow that pattern. Michael Oh, founder of Apple reseller Tech Superpowers and co-founder of mobile applications specialist Codex Development Ltd., said businesses will initially "wait-and-see" about Apple's tablet but will eventually place sizable orders.
"I think you'll see some sales of 100s of units to businesses in the six- to nine-month time frame," Oh said.
A white paper that Oh co-authored suggests healthcare providers could use the tablet for note taking. The device could also play a role in point-of-sale, enterprise reporting and analytics, and customer relationship management applications among others, according to the report.
Consumer technology: Security dimension
Security stands as another reason for resellers -- and their customers -- to follow developments in consumer technology.
"There are definitely security issues with consumer electronics working their way into the business world," noted Brad Johnson, vice president with SystemExperts Corp., a security consulting firm.
He said the enterprise security impact of consumer electronics was felt in the mid- to late 1990s with the emergence of personal digital assistants. Companies didn't want to purchase PDAs for employees, but business people bought them anyway, Johnson noted. The unmanaged PDAs presented companies with two risks: leaking sensitive data outside the company and introducing malware to corporate networks.
Johnson said businesses over the last three years have become more proactive in managing the newer crop of mobile devices --BlackBerrys, iPhones and other smartphones. But advising customers on how to deal with consumer technology remains a part of SystemExperts' consulting business, he added.
The upshot: Resellers should have a general idea of what's going on in consumer technology -- even if they don't plan to pack their bags for CES 2011.