Will enterprise tech ever catch up with the consumer market?

Video meeting
Enterprise systems still lag behind the consumer world

As a kid I remember watching Blake's 7 – the BBC's answer to Star Trek – and marvelling at Zen, the know-it-all computer that could provide an instant answer to any question Blake and his team threw at it.

Zen was, itself, an evolution of HAL – the rebellious computer at the centre of Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey – and anyone who has visited Spaceship Earth at Disney's Epcot in the 80s and 90s will probably remember riding past a model of a child talking, via video on their computer, to a friend in Japan.

All these prophetic technologies have been made reality in the form of Skype, Apple's Siri and, most recently, Google's self-driving cars and the recently announced Amazon Echo's Alexa.

If you stop and think just how much has been achieved with digital technology, you cannot fail to be impressed. As well as voice-activated systems, lifestyle tech is becoming increasingly prevalent. We have easily programmable hardware and software, supported via the cloud, that integrates with mobile devices and platforms and can remotely run everything from domestic appliances to the weekly shopping order.

Consumer first

Even at my advancing age, I can't help but be excited by the possibilities these technologies offers us. And yet, the reality is that the true leading-edge is being developed and used by and for the consumer market rather than enterprise. And therein lies the dichotomy.

Despite the fact that large corporations have IT budgets beyond the wildest dreams of any individual consumer, enterprise systems are still a long way behind the B2C.

Sure, there are a number of notable exceptions. CRM system, Salesforce, has not only become a dominant platform in its own right, but the majority of other enterprise-based sales, accountancy, call centre and other related software now strives to be Salesforce compliant to ensure easy integration.

At the very furthest end of the scale, the same can be said of SAP which has become the HAL of enterprise technology – a know-all, do-all platform without, one hopes, the sentient, rebellious, universe-conquering traits. That being said, there are plenty of conspiracy theorists keen to demonstrate the aspirations of world domination by the likes of SAP, Microsoft, Google and others.

Guinea pigs

The reality is that despite corporate budgets, individual consumers remain the guinea pigs for Amazon, Facebook, and other tech giants. The level of R&D, coding complexity and plug-and-play integration being provided to consumers is extraordinary. This, combined with single-point authentication and cloud-based storage for multiple applications, makes the perfect financial model.

Corporate clients are hamstrung by regulation, security, legacy systems and a need for bespoke elements of every product to overcome these issues and remain competitive. They also comprise, at best, a million or so users for the tech suppliers. Compare this to the private consumers, regularly counted in hundreds of millions or more, who are clamouring to try the latest tech in beta and install the newest plug-ins.

More importantly, the likes of Google and Facebook are having much of their development work done for them. After creating the core product, their role is now to keep it maintained and upgraded, leaving the 'bells and whistles' functionality to be developed by the global network of enthusiasts who are prepared to sit for hours (often unpaid) creating new apps and add-ons in the hope of supplementing their daily income. Some have been successful enough to make this their primary income stream.

Budgetary problem

In essence, the scale of investment required by the suppliers – and the budgets needed by the corporates – to deliver the same level of development for the enterprise market is just not viable.

My prediction for the enterprise model over the next five to 10 years is, as with the consumer market, a significant reduction in core platform and service providers, but a continued increase in third-party add-on developers who can create the bespoke elements necessary to meet corporate demand.

While the gulf between consumer and enterprise is shrinking, it is unlikely to close any time soon – the billions of private consumers will always come first.

  • Dr Peter Chadha is Managing Director of DrPete Inc and Steegle.com