Enterprise software apps as we know them aren't dead (yet)

I finally did it. I replaced my blackberry with a smart phone, an iPhone 4S. Yes, Siri has impressed me and I see a bright future for voice recognition. After using my new phone for just a week or so I don’t know why I waited years to make the transition. You probably were ahead of me, but I doubt I’m alone in dragging my feet in certain areas; technology is changing at a feverish pace. KPCB released a recent report entitled Internet Trends 2011 to try and tackle putting some perspective on these changes.

For example one of the many-eye popping stats is the fact that China added over 246 million internet users in the last three years. For some perspective that three year number is now greater than the total of all internet users in the US. And while that indeed is a huge number, it’s still only a 34% penetration rate. India, with a population of over a billion people, only has an 8% penetration rate for internet users.

But we already knew the internet was growing, and companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft continue to jockey for dominance. A little bit closer to home (home being the enterprise software realm), a few more stats caught my eye:

  • There are over 5.6 Billion mobile phone subscribers (yes, a user may subscribe to more than one phone) but less than 850 Million smartphone subscribers.

We are still early in the smart phone revolution. Early and yet not too early for companies to have to start dealing with this mobile shift:

  • Smart phones and tablets outshipped notebooks and PC’s in Q4 2010
  • MS Windows fell to <50% of internet-enabled devices in Q2 2010

There is no swimming against this tide. Smart phones and tablets are here to stay, and they are forcing companies to adopt standard IT to accommodate. You could possibly look at the proliferation of the Mac in the enterprise as a suitable analogy. Users are going to want what they want, and corporate IT can plan and embrace it or get pulled along trying to catch up. I can only assume this trend must impact how enterprise software is designed too – when your users have a sophisticated, elegant UI on their smart phone are they really going to be satisfied with that static HTML interface for their expense app? Won’t the enterprise software vendor that can adapt to how consumers behave outside the corporate work place have the advantage?

One often overlooked piece of this big puzzle is authentication. Companies have tried protocols like ADFS, SAML and SAMLv2, to manage the challenge of authenticating ‘internal’ corporate users from ‘external’ business partners. But consider this quote from the KPCB report:

With 800MM global active Facebook users…50% that log on in any givenday…with an average of 130 friends…and an average of 80 communitypages / groups / events…and more than 250MM photos uploaded per dayand 350MM active mobile users…*And 835MM smartphone users (likely ramping to 1.4B within two years)…

It’s hard to hide. The ‘truth’ is often just a photo/click–send away.

Will it really be that far aware before there is a melding of your corporate identity and your internet identity? Before you use your tablet between work and home, between corporate app and facebook app, and all that fun stuff like VPN’s and authentication is transparent?

I’m certainly not proclaiming the death of the enterprise application as we know it today, but I was able to get through some musings about the future without mentioning ‘the cloud’ or ‘virtualization’