Dilemma: The fast pace of consumer tech turnover

User-facing products now get orphaned in a few years or even in a few months, as in the case of Nokia's Lumia

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For businesses, it's a bigger question -- they're not constructed to handle this pace of change. One issue is the IT management, user training, and support ramp-up, all of which take time and money. That's why they skip versions of software and, if they have enough purchasing volume, signed deals with Dell and HP to keep the same PC systems available for multiple years with the same configurations, OS, and software image.

Businesses also face a fundamental financial management reality. Take that need to capitalize computer equipment over a five-year period and telecom over a three-year period -- the IRS set those rates, so companies don't have flexibility here. If they replace equipment before the capitalization period is over, it's an accounting nightmare. (Yes, there are some ways around it, but that raises its own issues.)

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all decided to not let those issues get in the way of evolving their products and underlying technologies. In the case of many services, such as those available in the cloud, you can't resist upgrades -- they're automatic. In the cases of devices and apps, there's more flexibility in sticking with older versions, but that's hard to do when users have some purchasing authority of their own and as software end-of-life on its own accord, which now happens with mobile apps.

As users, we can deal by remembering that consumer goods turn over quickly as their technology evolves. The pace of change usually has a benefit or pleasure.

For IT, it's time to stop getting hung up on devices and instead abstract up to policies, standards, and the like. The era of buying the exact same PC model until the next five-year refresh cycle and putting the same system image on it is over. That was not a realistic long-term approach to begin with, as it would be for mainframes, industrial robots, or ERP software.

IT had carved out an exception to reality that is fast disappearing, as devices that are more like appliances, such as tablets and cloud apps, get adopted; when you buy one, you get whatever model is current, as with a refrigerator or stereo. IT needs a different strategy for the new reality.

The bottom line: The technology pace is on a one- to three-year cycle, depending on the specific device, protocol, and so on. The three- to five-year cycles are gone, at least for user technology. We'll all have to get used to it.

This article, "Dilemma: The fast pace of consumer tech turnover," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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