Get used to it: The post-PC employee has arrived

Forrester survey shows that the future is now when it comes to use of personal computing for work

Forget the debate over whether employees should use tablets and smartphones for work. A large swatch of information workers are already putting it in practice. They've decided that using computers, tablets, and smartphones -- often all three -- suits the "work anywhere, work everywhere" environment we now know so well. A global study of nearly 10,000 information workers by Forrester Research shows this post-PC reality is the new reality.

If you're still arguing that iPads, Macs, iPhones, and Android devices are toys that faddist employees will soon get over, stop wasting your breath. If you believe a strict separation of work and personal information and activities can be imposed on information workers, stop wasting your time and money. If you're not reworking your applications and Web services to be adaptive -- that is, to work across multiple operating systems, browsers, screen sizes, and user interfaces -- you'd better start now. Likewise, if you're not reworking your apps and services to assume that information flows easily and capabilities are delivered as services, you'd better start now.

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As eye-opening as the Forrester data is, it's not the only sign that the post-PC reality is here. IDC, for example, predicts the number of people accessing the Internet through PCs in the United States will shrink from 240 million in 2012 to 225 million in 2016. At the same time, the number of mobile users will increase from 174 million to 265 million. Good Technology has found that employees believe so much in the post-PC devices that they're willing to pay for them themselves to use at work -- putting their money where their mouth is. Sales of traditional PCs are declining to the point where analysts have begun to redefine the PC to include tablets. Gartner predicts Macs will be as accepted by IT as Windows PCs by 2015. And a Unisys study shows that the people who make the most money for the company and drive much of the internal innovation are at the vanguard of this revolution, bringing real firepower to the change at work.

But the Forrester data brings it all together in a compelling picture that should guide individuals, corporations, and vendors alike on how to navigate the sea change now under way. The highlights:

Use of multiple devices is already common. Of information workers in the United States and Europe, 29 percent already use three or more devices, work from multiple locations, and use many apps. In fact, 23 percent did so in 2011 -- this shift has been under way for several years. Among workers who do all three, 82 percent use many apps, 53 percent use three or more devices, and 37 percent work from multiple locations.

Tablets are used consistently across locations. Across the 17 countries surveyed, tablets are used at roughly the same levels (ranging from 39 to 48 percent) almost everywhere: at a work desk, a client site, at home, in a café, and when traveling. That utility across so many locations contrasts with computers, used mainly at work (91 percent) and home (43 percent). Smartphones are heavily used, mostly at work (64 percent), when commuting (64 percent), and at home (69 percent); at 44 to 47 percent, smartphones' use in other scenarios rivals the tablets' range.

PCs rule but mobile is getting big. Today's information workers still use mainly PCs for work (84 percent use a desktop PC at least weekly and 63 percent use a laptop). But 48 percent use a smartphone (desk phones are only 59 percent), and 21 percent use a tablet.

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