Five questions for IT from CES

This year's shows included many announcements that will affect what IT shops do

Didn't send anyone to CES? You probably should have. As I wrote last April, the Consumer Electronics Show may have "consumer" in its name, but it is more and more a place for IT to keep up to date with what will be happening in their companies soon. That's because users are increasingly having their say when it comes to the technologies they use.

This year's CES was particularly interesting, with announcements that carried implications far beyond the concerns of consumers. Much of the show was devoted to concepts that are going to have a potentially huge impact for the business IT user. Here are five questions that come to mind after attending CES for IT organizations to be thinking about.

What's your tablet policy? By some counts, more than 100 different tablet devices were shown at CES. Platforms from Apple, Google, Palm, RIM and Microsoft take overlapping but different approaches. The question for IT is how to deal with one of this year's biggest issues, the adoption of media tablets by consumers who are also your end users. IT needs to be thinking about use cases, about what to allow and support and what to ban. You may have thought that phones were hard to do, but thing's are going to get even more complicated.

How will you select smartphone platforms? Speaking of phones, there were quite a few on display at CES. The smartphone is the new feature phone, bulked up so that it's now the PC that goes in end users' pockets. There's enormous diversity of platforms, all offering varying degrees of applications compatibility with existing systems and different levels of security, and it's important that IT understand all the key platforms that are out there. This is going be a consumer-driven adoption, and IT needs to have answers as to what's acceptable and what's not.

How's your security? Which reminds me, do you have security policies in place? CES showcased devices that can store a terabyte of information in a package smaller than an iPhone and 32GB on a micro-SD card smaller than a fingernail. In short, end users can now very easily remove data that only a short time ago would have required the resources of a data center to store. Think I'm exaggerating? Just Google "wikileaks" and then start thinking about the implications of hundreds of thousands of your company's documents floating around the Internet.

How will you deal with Windows on ARM? In the race for the next generation of computing platforms, Microsoft dropped a bombshell when it announced it would port Windows to ARM processors. This move will allow for new classes of devices and offer some response to the iPad beyond today's Tablet PCs. Microsoft has tried to move Windows to other platforms before, including Power PC, MIPS, Alpha and Itanium. None but good old x86 Intel mattered back then, but that's all about to change. Of course, this also means new versions of applications, new devices and drivers and potentially an entirely new set of costs and hassles for IT to deal with. The time to start asking questions and thinking about implications is now.

How will your users employ mobile broadband? They're here, so-called 4G networks that offer blazing speeds and connections for mobile devices. Your users will want that technology, and they're going to want it soon. Does it make sense for home office users currently getting reimbursed for broadband access to instead be given a 4G device for use both at home and on the road? Will the cost of adoption be justified across the board? How will users be responsible for bandwidth use? For example, the 5GB monthly cap on Verizon's LTE network can get burned through pretty quickly by users streaming high-definition Netflix content.

2011 is shaping up to be a transformative year as consumer technologies take another leap forward. I haven't even discussed the implications of things such as social networks and IT and how these tools will likely get some people promoted this year and others looking for new lines of work. Now is the time for savvy IT organizations to be asking the right questions and getting the answers in place. Users are already lining up to make their purchase decisions, and they'll do that with or without the aid of IT.

Michael Gartenberg is a research director at Gartner. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @Gartenberg .

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