Why the 'personal cloud' is no PC killer

The centerpiece of mobile employees' digital lives won't be the cloud -- it will be a triad of mobile devices

"New eras" are by and large incremental variants of their predecessors, which is why proclaiming a seismic shift in IT is more often than not a fool's game.

Enter Gartner. According to our favorite research firm, in two years, the personal computer will have been superseded by the personal cloud. Or, in its own words:

The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives. ... The personal cloud will begin a new era that will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for daily activities, while leveraging the strengths of each device, ultimately enabling new levels of user satisfaction and productivity. However, it will require enterprises to fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services to users.

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It isn't that Gartner is wrong; it’s that its conclusions are, as usual, grandiose and overstated. Fundamental shifts are most often implemented with duct tape and chewing gum. And in the case of next generation IT, this shift is already under way, thanks to a triad of devices -- the smartphone, tablet, and laptop -- not the cloud.

Personal cloud: A shift but not seismic

Were Gartner to walk through a typical business, it would find oodles (somewhere between "lots" and "most") of employees whose jobs are such that smartphones, tablets, and ubiquitous access are entirely irrelevant. Don't believe me? Consider your average call center agent. Or people who work on assembly lines (they still exist!). Accounting and payroll clerks. Retail sales staff.

Call them the 90 percenters. They're the largely invisible (to the majority of business commentators), numerically enormous proportion of employees who grind out the day-to-day work of most companies.

This is the problem with phrases like "new era" and "fundamental rethinking." They ignore something even more basic and fundamental than the supposedly fundamental rethinking: For the most part, all the new, glitzy stuff is a layer wrapped around the old, boring, prosaic world in which so much of what matters takes place.

Where the cloud falls short: Features and performance

Technically, Gartner is correct about the personal cloud, but only because its statement is satisfied if two employees anywhere in the world have reoriented so that their personal cloud is now the center of their digital lives. After all, Gartner said "employees," not "all employees," "most employees," or even "a lot of employees." "Employees" can mean any number greater than one.

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