As we move into a new year, one thing is certain for enterprise IT: the consumerization of enterprise technology is not a trend ... it's a reality.

We can all thank Apple for setting everyone’s expectations around design, quality and user experience extremely high.

More than ever “easy to access,” “simple to use” and “pretty to look at” have become factors in a business user’s purchasing decision. Users are raising their expectations, demanding more and voicing their frustrations with IT departments that lack agility internally.

Cloud Domination

That’s why cloud based software-as-a-service will continue to dominate all IT discussions in 2013. Along with the cloud, both mobile and social remain an enterprise focus as global workforces require better ways to connect and collaborate via secure managed devices in a BYOD world. No surprises in 2013 as this triumvirate -- cloud, mobile and social -- remain at the top of everyone's list.

The economics of the cloud are pretty compelling because many IT departments struggle with running “IT as services business” and just can't deliver the same internal IT services cost effectively. Enterprise IT departments are already planning “hybrid cloud” plans following the 80/20 rule. With the exception of maybe highly regulated industries, 80 percent or more of IT as we know it today will eventually move to the cloud. The exceptions, the remaining 20 percent, will likely remain inside the firewall for specific complexity, security, compliance or other business reasons.

For the time being, Salesforce remains the cloud vendor everyone else is chasing. In 2012 we also saw Microsoft, SAP and Oracle acquire and make significant strides towards the cloud. In the end, it won’t matter who was late to the game. The vendors that provide the best cloud user experience, the best services and the best economic value will ultimately win.

If vendors fail to innovate, fail to remove friction of use and fail to meet user expectations (specifically around the mobile experience), the agility and open integration of the cloud means switching vendor ecosystems becomes A LOT easier than ever before.

It means an integrated best of breed approach also becomes easier and more cost effective in the cloud than it ever was on-premises. These are all the reasons why valuations of cloud vendors continue to be measured in terms of number of users as opposed to profitability. There is incredible growth ahead in 2013 and beyond.

Collaboration Grows Up

As the consumerization in the enterprise evolves in 2013, users will continue to demand usability, mobility and the ability to easily share and collaborate while IT requires security, compliance, reporting, governance, etc. This simply means those consumer-like cloud services now targeting the enterprise market will need to grow up and mature their offerings to meet enterprise requirements.

This is especially true for enterprise social and cloud based collaboration platforms. Businesses will demand more value and more analytics of the underlying “big data” generated by these social collaboration platforms.

Contributions, activity, followers or number of users are all great metrics. However, as customers move along the adoption curve, they will demand more measurable value in terms of dollars and productivity. Fortunately, over the past year we have seen some early adopters start to mature their thinking around things like social collaboration technology.

Organizations are realizing that integrating with back-end systems, embedding into business processes and making social relevant to daily workflows is where productivity gains can be measured. More of this integration needs to continue to happen. More strategic investment, more executive sponsorship and more commitment of resources are required for organizations to achieve that elusive ROI.

The Consumer Spills into the Enterprise

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The consumer-driven BYOD mobile business world has continued to show us in 2012 that the success of Google and Apple allows them to further penetrate the enterprise market. Both Apple and Google (and even Amazon) have nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to focus on the enterprise.

And we continue to see trends in the consumer space that are affecting the enterprise. For example, I used to own a RIM Blackberry like many people and now have an iPhone. As a result of mobile consumers switching, enterprises continue to dump RIM as a vendor and developers continue to ignore Blackberry as a platform.

I'm also a lifelong Microsoft user at work and at home (dating back to as a kid in the 80's). Today, in my household, I have just 2 Microsoft devices compared to 4 Nintendo devices and 8 iOS devices. I have to assume my kids will never own a Windows device in their lifetime unless xBox and other "x-devices" become the next hottest consumer product. That's an entire generation of consumers Microsoft is losing from birth!

Microsoft has much more to lose than Apple or Google by not focusing more on mobile consumers and only time will tell what impact that will have in the enterprise. As for the coming year, I just don't see anyone I know giving up their Apple or Androids devices. In fact, I see everyone buying more Apple and more Android.

Microsoft Push and Pull

In spite of this consumer trend, Microsoft will remain very relevant in the 2013 enterprise because they force everyone else to compete fiercely for a piece of that enterprise pie. For that reason, Microsoft needs to win in the consumer space and consumers need Microsoft. As much as I like Apple today, I want more choice beyond their closed mobile ecosystem. And the next best consumer choice to Apple is Android.

What we've seen in 2012 from Microsoft is promising. The Surface will most likely replace my laptop because my iPad has not (at least not yet). Hopefully HP and Dell will clone Surface, provide more enterprise friendly serviceability, drive more market penetration and bring prices down for consumers relative to Apple and Android.

As for my mobile device, I wish I could say that my iPhone will be replaced by a Windows Phone anytime soon. The problem is that consumers require a compelling or economic reason to switch. And Microsoft just needs cooler mobile products with some kind of "x-factor" that makes consumers want to buy it. I'm rooting for Microsoft because they are important competitors in the world of technology.

A Foot in Both Worlds

It is really hard for companies to compete in both the consumer space and the enterprise space at the same time. The enterprise presents different security, integration, compliance and economic challenges compared to the consumer space. There's also a lot of uncertainty as new technology and new competitors are always entering the market and changing the game.

What is certain in 2013 is the consumerization of enterprise IT is not slowing down anytime soon. Mobile consumers are driving everything including the cloud and social. For enterprise tech companies trying to compete, this means not focusing more on consumers will eventually hurt a vendor within the enterprise. Sure a major tech player can always use their scale and resources to acquire or develop new technology. However, the bottom line is losing mobile consumers today increases the risk of losing the enterprise in the future. 

Image courtesy of jkirsh / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: To read more of Rich's thoughts on the technology driving today's enterprise, check out: Top 3 Considerations for Deploying Social Technology in the Enterprise