Users rush to tablets far faster than IT expected

Message to IT: Get off the stick or be left behind.

The surging popularity of tablets, especially the iPad, is driving U.K. analysis firm Canalys to project far more optimistic growth rates on PC sales than U.S.-based IDC and Gartner, which are the usual gold standards.

Rather than look at tablets as "cannibalizing" PC sales, as other analysts do, Canalys "urges vendors to accept new market realities, by recognizing pads as an integral new component of the overall PC landscape."

Whether or not to treat tablets as PCs could cause a lot of arguing among analyst companies, marketers and vendors -- largely because they've set themselves up with specific categories that make it easier to make apple-to-apple comparisons of different types of devices.

Canalys doesn't argue that; it argues that the people who matter -- end users -- treat tablets the same way they do PCs. They do email, work on documents, play games, store important corporate data on them and leave them in airports and taxis so others can benefit from the same data.

From that point of view tablets are exactly the same thing as PCs, from the point of view of IT departments responsible for and to those end users.

By that logic Apple is increasingly important , as the third largest PC maker globally, and Android is growing twice as fast as competing operating systems as another big part of a portfolio of endpoint hardware.

Given the range of hardware end users actually use, by choice or not, it's not always clear which they prefer.

A good measure is where and how they do email. According to comScore, Americans are moving more quickly from regular PCs to their phones -- a dramatic trend that will have a big impact on corporate IT this year.

Overall the number of people accessing Internet email using a phone increased 36 percent in 2010 compared to 2009. Younger workers are moving most quickly; those 25 to 34 increased email o n phones by 60 percent compared to 2009.

That doesn't include corporate email systems like Exchange.

It should.

A 2005 study showed 82 percent of Americans wanted to be able to choose to read email on their phones rather than their PCs -- establishing this as more than a flash-in-the-pan trend.

Based on results this week, Wall Street is betting enterprise software will be the growth area in tech for this year.

Surveys of CIOs and CFOs are saying the same thing.

There's not a lot of room in there to waste time fighting with users about what kinds of endpoint devices they can use and whether or how to get corporate email when they're on the move.

Email is a critical function for end users, but not one that IT can contribute a lot of value to beyond just keeping the servers running.

It makes far more sense to outsource or offload it onto Google or other providers and spend limited IT resources on things that really will make a difference.

Like figuring out how and when to tie in all those tablets to all those enterprise apps before end users storm the data center to beat you to death with them.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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