One of the hottest trends in the technology industry these days is the phenomenon know as “Bring your own Device” or BYOD. For IT departments, this is the latest control-related nightmare they loath so much. The original technological shift from Mainframes to Minis and PCs was probably the start of many control-related sleep disturbances and BYOD continues the trend. Mobile computing in itself was bad enough from the perspective of the internal IT folk;. Mobile BYOD may be enough to push them all to drink.
But enough about anguish for the IT guys: what are the implications of BYOD for independent software vendors?
One of the major challenges–or opportunities–that I believe software vendors face in a BYOD world is the potentially wide variety of mobile platforms to support. Many readers are likely thinking “its only the iPhone/iOS and Android, so not a problem. Nothing else is relevant.”
Maybe-But bear with me for a bit.
Things aren’t always what they seem on the surface. For one thing, Android is hardly a single, tightly unified platform like iOS. It’s basically an open source operating system in which every OEM can (and often does) modify the OS to provide differentiation on their hardware platform. In a way this can be a good thing by spurring innovation; but if you’re a third party software vendor dependent on the parts of the OS that is often modified–it can also be viewed as problematic. But should it be?
Google has recently sought to rein in the fragmentation issue as the numerous hardware-focused variants were causing a lot of consternation in the third party software community. At a minimum this fragmentation causes a great deal of testing complexity, and at worst the necessity to maintain different code for each hardware OEM’s platform.
Back in the old days
This reminds me of back in the 80s in the early days of MS DOS. IBM had its PC DOS version and all of the other PC hardware OEMs had their own version of MS DOS as well–almost compatible with each other, but with just enough variation to cause problems. Needless to say, this caused problems in the ISV community which had to choose between supporting myriad platforms–or picking winners. Neither appeared to be a great choice.
Even if you don’t consider the Android fragmentation issue serious, I contend there are other similar platform support issues. In a world tightly controlled by the IT department, the platform choices might indeed be limited to Android and iOS. But what about Blackberry, Microsoft and any new platforms that might come along in this large and competitive market? Again I can almost see the smirking by some reading this: “those platforms are market also-rans with very small market shares. I don’t need to support them!”
Or do you?
Back in the old days–one more time
One more time I’ll take you way back for another analogous situation. In the 90s I was running a systems/network management software business targeted at the enterprise IT market. This was an “add-on” product business; our product ran on top of the Network Operating Systems (NOS) of the day. Back then, Novell Netware dominated the market with an estimated 60-80% share of the business. The other major NOS platforms (widely considered also-rans) were Banyan Vines (about 5-8% market share) and numerous OEM variants of Microsoft LAN Manager (10-15% share total). LAN Manager was slightly different depending upon the OEM hardware platform, much like Windows itself in the earlier example and Android today. The fragmentation of LAN Manager made it even less desirable for an add-on ISV market segment like our category.
All of our competitors looked at the market and designed their products to run strictly on Netware. On the surface this made total sense. There was just one problem—in the enterprise IT market (the primary target for our segment) the customers are huge companies with a lot of buying power; they like to get vendors to do what they want. Of course, many enterprises did standardize on Novell Netware at that time.
We took a contrarian approach at the time and chose to extend our product, supporting both VINES and LAN Manager in addition to Netware. We found that the larger the company, the more heterogeneous their networking environments tended to be. Even if 90% of the systems within an enterprise were based upon Netware, there was a strong desire in enterprises for support of ALL of their networks companywide. So although Banyan and Microsoft LAN Manager each had a modest number of accounts using only their NOS (we won those by default), we were in a much stronger position than our competitors in the largest enterprises with heterogeneous network environments. We won far more than are share, and the additional revenue more than made up of the modest additional development cost and support complexity.
So how do software vendors capitalize?
I bore you with the old case study above because I believe BYOD in the Enterprise will only accentuate the benefits of supporting as many platforms as possible. Although many companies with highly influential IT departments will limit choice, this is really against the spirit of BYOD. While it may look unlikely to some right now, I see BYOD generally moving the enterprise mobile software market toward heterogeneous, multi-platform environments. Forward thinking ISVs would be wise to consider this in their product plans.
There are many new challenges that are already rising as the BYOD movement takes hold. BYOD in the enterprise is a rich area for discussion. In addition to the cross-platform support issue discussed here, there are major security, legal, support and economic/cost considerations to consider. Some of these issues don’t yet have great answers–maybe we’ll explore them in a later column. BYOD is a major paradigm shift for all segments of the IT business. I believe that there will be many more yet unforeseen factors that will greatly impact the landscape for enterprises, end users and software/hardware vendors as the situation matures.
What are your thoughts on the cross platform support issue we’ve raised in this article? Give us your take. And what are some other issues brought on by BYOD that aren’t widely being discussed yet? Post a comment so we can all benefit from your experiences.