What it means that smartphones are the fastest-growing IT sector

Various smartphones
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All hail the new King of IT: IDC’s latest Black Book predicts worldwide IT spending growth will come mostly from smartphones.

The latest edition of IDC’s quarterly Worldwide Black Book predicts a “more positive outlook for IT spending in the second half of 2014” and the next 12-18 months. The research firm forecasts global IT spending to grow 4.5% in 2014 in constant currency, powered by strength in mature economies and business confidence, “a significant commercial PC refresh cycle,” and continued acceleration in software and services buying, especially “data analytics, data management, and collaborative applications including enterprise social networks.”

Those healthy signs are all well and good, but according to the Black Book, despite “strong underlying demand … [driving] improvements in the server, storage, and network infrastructure market,” the single most important factor in IT’s growth is smartphones. Take them out of the equation and IT spending is expected to grow just 3.1% this year. The report noted special strength in Chinese smartphone growth.

4 Big changes driven by the rise of mobile

Those figures are a stark illustration of the incredible sea change in the world of IT. Consider these four facts:

  1. It wasn’t that many years ago that smartphones would not have shown up on this list at all.
  2. All that IT money going to buy smartphones is not going to traditional IT vendors.
  3. Smartphones hardly constitute a long-term investment in infrastructure. Most will be toxic landfill in a couple years.
  4. Unlike other kinds of IT, those smartphone investments are not always controlled or “owned” by traditional IT departments. 

Add ‘em all up and it’s clear that an increase in IT spending on smartphones is not exactly a good thing for old-school IT. Along with the growing importance of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastrcture-as-a-Service (IaaS)—not to mention shadow IT—it’s yet another a sign that business-as-usual IT simply isn’t as relevant as it used to be.

Not dead yet

That doesn’t mean there’s no role at all for IT as we knew it. IDC now says, “The commercial PC refresh has proven stronger than originally forecast,” with PC spending expected to grow faster than it has since 2010. Some of that boost has come from Microsoft’s termination of Windows XP support, “but there has also been a transition of some spending from tablets to PCs,” Stephen Minton, Vice President in IDC's Global Technology & Industry Research Organization, noted in a statement. (Of course, Minton was careful to qualify that, “It would be premature to say that improvements in the consumer PC market represent anything like a reversal of the long-term shift to tablets and hybrids.”)

Either way, though, the larger trend is clear - PCs and tablets are no longer IT royalty. The one true King of IT is increasingly the smartphone. We’re only now beginning to experience the ramifications of its coronation on IT departments around the world.

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