Forget the economic downturn—Apple Computer is hotter than hot.

In its fourth-quarter earnings report released this week, Apple, with its Mac computers and iPhones, reported fourth-quarter sales of almost $10 billion, up almost 25% from the year ago quarter. For the fiscal year, the company reported earnings of more than  $36 billion, up 12% from last year.

What does this mean to enterprises? Right now, on the surface, not much. But the long-term implications may be enormous.

Unlike most other large vendors in the IT space, Apple's success is not built on enterprise IT adoption, but on individual sales. Apple is very much a consumer device and computer provider. However, the runaway success of such mobile devices mean companies need to start making choices in terms of what direction they want to take IT.

There's been growing talk, in fact, of IT departments getting out of the business of end-user computing and leaving end users to make their own decisions, even to the point of bringing their own hardware into the workplace. Gartner analysts David Mitchell Smith and Tom Austin said as much at the recent IT Symposium, said it's high time IT was outsourced—to the users.

IT has been expending time and energy trying to hold off the tsunami for years—attempting to lock down systems and regulate the types of devices that are used to get their organizations' work done.

You can see the productivity benefits IT would see as a result of this shift of responsibilities. IT can focus on back-end integration work, service-oriented architecture and even cloud computing.

But there are organizational benefits as well. I like the way Bob Lewis put it in a post last year: Leave it up to the end users to supply their own computers on the job, and their productivity would flourish. Users need to be unleashed to get their jobs done with the tools they see fit.

So why not let employees do their thing with their own PCs and smartphones? As Lewis put it, “no corporate-owned PCs at all. Let employees buy their own — whatever they think they need to do their jobs ... Only central IT remains. Employees take over ownership of the periphery, including responsibility for their own PC support.”

IT is more productive, and employees are more productive; what's not to like? We already know the self-service ethic is a winning approach for many companies. Insurers have seen tremendous gains thanks to self-service portals for agents and consumers. Self-service portals for employees are also gaining traction in the industry. Why not self-service IT?

We already see plenty of instances of employees using their own mobile devices for work-related connectivity. And, countless users log in from their homes to check into the intranet or for updated communications. Gartner even suggests that it would be far cheaper to simply provide employees a stipend to buy their own machines rather than attempt corporate-level purchases.

Of course, there are data security issues that need to be worked through—there will need to be more thorough date encryption strategies, for example. Lewis suggests that virtualization—having end users accessing virtual environments versus actual production environments—may be the way to secure back-end systems a little better. This is especially an acute issue for insurance carriers. But at the same time, there is a great opportunity for mobile workers, such as field claims adjusters. 

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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