Benefits of mobility take the PC market down a peg

Mobile devices come with plenty of advantages for business users, especially if they can access cloud-based corporate data. IT needs to take note that PC management is on the way out.

It's time for organizations to start moving away from the PC management model and embrace the benefits of mobility in the enterprise.

It's no secret that PC market sales are dropping, in part because so many people use mobile devices; Web browsers and the cloud to do work. According to Gartner, PC shipments will see a decline of 4.4% in 2015. If you're considering a PC refresh in the enterprise, it might be worth considering the way users work first.

Today's mobile devices are powerful enough for most users that they don't need all the extra power and storage that comes with desktops and laptops in corporate environments. Mobile devices can display almost any sort of media rapidly, and Web technology has improved to make mobile browsing a nearly seamless experience. For some IT shops, mobile devices combined with cloud services are all employees need to get their jobs done.

The case against the PC

The PC model has always been difficult for IT departments to control and manage.

PC replacements usually have a two- to three-year refresh cycle, and OS upgrades help drive the hardware upgrade process. Windows 8 didn't make many shops refresh PCs, and although Windows 10 might help improve the PC market, Microsoft said it's the last big OS release.

Plus, the PC model has always been difficult for IT departments to control and manage. Often, users' computers leave the corporate walls and go home with employees at the end of the day, making it difficult for IT to control that data when it's remote. Many shops take a layered approach to securing desktops and laptops with virus and malware scanners, passcodes and locks, and corporate policies about acceptable use. Still, backing up and archiving all that data that's stored locally is a complex task.

PCs also cost a great deal to maintain. The hardware can fail, but IT must also sometimes rebuild a user's environment, which can take many hours.

Cloud and mobile team up

Supporting enterprise applications on mobile devices -- and combining that with cloud-based services -- is one way to avoid some of those PC challenges.

Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of mobility, and it's dooming the PC. Many IT shops provide users with cloud-based resources on personal or corporate-owned mobile devices. This could take many forms, such as hosting desktops and applications in the cloud with desktop as a service. IT shops can also use software as a service applications to let users access everything they need via a Web browser. The apps, desktops and data are always available to users from any device, and IT doesn't have to worry about securing client-side data like they did with PCs.

One issue with mobile devices; however, is that legacy and line-of-business applications that are meant for use on desktops don't often perform well on mobile. To deal with that, there are cloud-based versions of many commonly used apps such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps.

With a cloud-based approach, downtime can be very short. If one device fails, users can log into another one -- be it a mobile device or desktop -- and pick up where they left off. And with smartphones and tablets as client devices, users get a completely familiar work experience.

Additionally, many companies find that it's cheaper to pay for subscription cloud services such as Office 365, for productivity applications, or Amazon Workspaces, for hosted desktops and apps. IT doesn't have to maintain the back-end infrastructure, and admins don't have to troubleshoot as many problems on users' devices, allowing them time to accomplish other tasks.

Using cloud services and apps to provide data access on mobile devices can also improve security.  When users access applications in the cloud, that data is stored in the cloud and not locally on the device. If IT hosts applications and desktops in the cloud, users' configuration preferences are stored there, too. That means if a user gets a new device, he can easily reach the apps and data he needs. Admins should also consider using the cloud for backup and disaster recovery.

Mobile won't supplant PCs just yet

When employees use mobile devices and cloud applications for work, there are a few challenges.

Not all applications work well on every device. For example, applications that are mouse-heavy often perform poorly on devices that don't have a mouse. And there can be delays in downloads or graphics delivery, because mobile devices connect to corporate resources over wireless Internet or mobile cellular networks. Employees who work in the field or take business trips may become frustrated by intermittent or lack of connectivity.

Another wrench in the mobile market is 2-in-1 devices, which still hang onto some of the functionality of a PC and have garnered a lot of interest. For many business users, the draw of a laptop or 2-in-1 is the keyboard.

Still, there are many inexpensive wireless keyboards available for tablets. Even printing capabilities from mobile devices have seen some progress. For these reasons, it's likely that mobile devices will slowly stand up to the PC market. IT shops need to take a hard look at their PC refresh cycles and consider whether equipping users with cloud-based services on mobile devices is the better route.  

Next Steps

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