The Blurring Line Between Home And Business Tech

[qi:018] “Is this purchase for home or business?”

That used to be an easy question to answer. Not any more.

There was a time when all of your business data was on the computer, or the network, that you used for business: You logged into your corporate intranet to view files, and used your Exchange server to check email or colleague availability. Then you drove home, where you got onto the family PC to check personal email, play games, balance your checkbook, etc.

Even if you worked remotely, you probably used a Virtual Private Network to log into your office computer as if you were there. You would never have dreamed of using the same computer, the same software and the same unprotected, not-locked-down Internet to access work files. And if you were a freelancer? You were on your own little island.

Now, the enterprise is slowly coming home (or to the coffee shop or public library), and the home user is going to work without leaving the living room. The multi-tenant, software-as-a-service model, led by the huge success of companies like Salesforce.com (CRM), is taking big business out of its silos and giving the little guys the chance to play in waters they previously couldn’t afford to navigate.

In many cases, the only difference amongst the applications used by the sole proprietor, the startup or the medium-sized business is scale. Packages are separated in a volume-per-user model, rather than a “consumer” vs. “business” model. We have moved from a time when companies were just getting used to the idea of having a companion web site for their product to a time when the web site is the company. Physical location no longer matters, since the same software is accessible from the 30th floor of an urban skyscraper or a spare bedroom that’s serving as the world headquarters of the next great startup.

It’s not that tools of the enterprise are now available to solo workers, but the other way around — applications that larger organizations never took seriously are now part of the distributed workforce. Gartner Group predicts that within four years, instant messenger will be the de facto tool in the enterprise. Indeed, instant messaging systems have moved from the fringe to become a key part of an enterprise’s collaboration infrastructure and are increasingly displacing existing forms of communications, from ad hoc telephone calls and emails to pre-planned meetings and video conferences. Enterprises are beginning to invest in IM and associated technologies accordingly.

And teenagers across the world are yelling, “I told you so, Dad!”

Of course, one negative side effect of this trend towards the blurring of home and business technology that we talk about frequently on Web Worker Daily is the dissolution of the 9-to-5 workday. Much as alcoholics used to justify the noon cocktail by saying, “It’s 5 p.m. somewhere,” workaholics are justifying the middle-of-the-night email with, “It’s 10 a.m. somewhere.” Sad thing is, they’re right. If the data you’re working with is accessible 24/7, it gets more difficult to draw the line. We still may be working eight-to-1o-hour days, but often it’s over a 16-to-20-hour stretch of time.

Somewhere in the middle of the question “Is this purchase for home or business?” may very well be the next tech trend to watch.