CES 2020: Lessons for the Apple enterprise

For the first time in 28 years, Apple returns to CES; what does that mean for Apple-centric enterprises?

Apple, CES, CES 2020, iPhone, iPad, IoT, security

Apple officially returns to CES for the first time in 28 years this year.

The last time the company appeared at the show Apple introduced its ahead-of-its time Newton device. This time, the company is talking about security and the Internet of connected things.

Lessons for the enterprise

The Newton was intended as Apple’s then-CEO John Sculley’s big idea: the world’s first example of an information appliance for communication, entertainment and productivity.

(Years later, we got the real deal with iPhone.)

Newton, “represents perhaps the first tangible glimpse of a vision of technology’s future, a vision now shared by many of the world’s biggest high-technology companies,” wrote Mercury News at that time.

The product defined (or perhaps prophesied) some of the trends that continue to transform enterprise today: mobility, cloud services, communication and what is now seen as the rapid consumerization of every part of industry.

While we endured decades of an artificial distinction between consumer and enterprise IT, that distinction is on the retreat; today’s best enterprises know that their own tech tools must be as easy to use as the Newton’s spiritual successor, the iPhone.

Apple’s big message for CES: Security

Apple executive Jane Horvath is expected to take part in panel discussion around consumer privacy on Tuesday. That’s significant because of the 28-year gap since the company last appeared at the show.

It’s also significant as a clear expression of how vital Apple sees privacy in our increasingly connected age.

And, just like with the Newton, others in the industry must take note: Apple is a sign post, while others remain little more than weathervanes, blowing wherever their short-term interests lead them.

This should be significant to every enterprise. Data is gold dust, data protection is everything and the regulatory load of handling data is becoming increasingly burdensome, which is why Apple’s decision to gather as little data as it can in order to deliver its services should be emulated.

Securing that data effectively is equally important. That’s lesson one.

What other lessons should Apple enterprise professionals take from CES 2020?

Standards matter, so make them work together

An Apple statement published just before Christmas noted that Apple, Amazon, Google, Zigbee Alliance and people from other companies have formed a working group (the snappily-named Connected Home over IP project), to develop an open standard for smart home devices.

This is a welcome step about which we may learn more at CES 2020.

It’s a welcome step because the market for IoT devices has spawned dozens of competing standards for consumer and enterprise devices, including proprietary standards for specific industry verticals. This was fine when IoT was defined as a couple of automated vacuum cleaners, some privacy-eroding door mechanisms and a handful of automated farms/factories.

It's not so fine at all when we expect more than 20 billion IoT devices to be installed by the end of 2020.

These deployments include entire cargo yards, vast tracts of agricultural land and a booming market in connected home systems, including literally the many HomeKit-compatible devices being introduced at CES 2020.

If the Connected Home over IP project succeeds in building an open standard for domestic IoT devices, it seems a natural step for enterprises in the IoT space to look to employ that same standard within their own industrial systems.

In this way, they can employ the security knowledge of the world’s biggest tech firms, augment this with their own, protect it with their existing CyberSOC arrangements and bundle all of this up within systems that combine the robust security you need when you’re managing (say) a connected nuclear power station with the consumer-friendly apps the people who work in your stations expect.

Making standards that work well with others is an opportunity for everyone. That’s a lesson not just for enterprise pros, but for enterprise service providers – and certainly should be borne in mind for any enterprise sourcing services, who must resist any and all attempts to use standards to protect vendor lock in.

Even iCloud can be accessed using a standards-compliant browser, after all.

No enterprise should expect less.

Consumerization of IT, redux?

Another CES 2020 trend enterprise pros will be looking to understand is how the consumerization of IT will further impact their business.

In the short term, this might mean Apple TV deployments in public signage systems and conference rooms; it will certainly mean continued development of useful consumer-facing apps; it probably hints at new business cases for hearables (AirPods) and wearables (Apple Watch); and it most definitely moves toward health monitoring and protection systems for employees – such as gig economy employees in high-risk occupations, like food delivery.

Further out, think how on-demand autonomous vehicles might replace corporate fleets in smart cities, or how AR-based conferencing systems can help reduce corporate costs and carbon emissions by reducing air travel.

Machine intelligence also plays its part. As AI becomes more contextually aware (and there are examples of this at CES), how can smart infrastructure improve business processes, erode hierarchical management models and boost enterprise efficiency?

When is an iPhone not an iPhone? When it becomes an edge device for enterprise-focused AI.

While the implementations you see on the show floor at CES may seem to be consumer devices, the actual technologies driving them are similar to these.

The networking thing

Everyone is talking about 5G. Enterprises should be preparing for it, but the coverage isn’t here yet and we’ll be using hybrid networks for some time to come.

Wi-Fi 6, HomeKit-secured routers and the open IoT networking standard the Connected Home over IP group is working on are equally important.

Not only this, but if you’re in the business of launching new online services, you’ll want to ensure they work well with 4G, given that’s the mobile standard most of your customers will be using. (If you’ve got billions in VC funding to burn on a 5G-only play then this might be a little different, I suppose – but most businesses won’t be in that position.)

The 5G marketing machine is in full flow, and it is important enterprises recognize that beyond the hype bubble the big need here is networking. Connected devices need networks to run on and that means hybrid networks are everything; connected systems are meaningless if they can’t get online.

Right now, only a handful of firms are getting rich on 5G, but many more make money on other networking standards. That’s unlikely to change.

Personalization – and analytics

Most major enterprises and many smaller ones are making use of data analytics. This information helps supermarkets plan stock on a store-by-store basis, informs haulage and delivery systems, manages warehouses and much more.

Customer satisfaction, business efficiency and new business models are unleashed through the effective use of such data, and capturing it is a huge trend across CES.

That robot bringing you toilet paper isn’t just picking up media coverage, it’s also gathering quite personal information. So are those smart trash cans, infotainment systems and every other connected thing at the show.

These systems bring questions, as well as convenience.

  • How will the information they gather be used?
  • What information is reasonable to collect?
  • What controls should consumers expect over this data?
  • How will this data be protected?
  • Who has access to it?

What is your enterprise’s approach to these questions and how might your business be impacted by competitors equipped with such insights? What role should consumers play in managing such information? What penalties should exist for abuse of such information? How can our society protect itself against the impact of such normalized surveillance?

Apple’s presence at CES 2020 ensures such conversations will intensify this year –  perhaps generating a discussion equally profound to that around the first mobile device way back in 1992.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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