PC Market Shows Signs of Life Among Midsize Businesses

By | Apr 18, 2012

Midsize firms, it seems, are still buying PCs, in spite of reports of their demise. That is the takeaway from reports that the PC market, expected to decline in the first quarter of 2012, instead showed a modest uptick. The unexpected gain was fueled largely by the business market, as consumers concentrate on mobile devices.

So why the unexpected pickup in business PC sales? Perhaps because robust IT shops, characteristic of midsize firms as well as large enterprises, need robust machines able to handle sophisticated business analytics, CRM, and other tools. Midsize firms must also create content, not just consume it. The result? A continuing demand for capabilities beyond the reach of smarphones or even iPads.

Headway Against the Wind

As reported by Lance Whitney at CNET, personal computers sales showed a slight gain in the first quarter of 2012, as compared with a year earlier. The increase of 2.3 percent would not be much to email home about, except that analysts expected sales to fall. Market analysis firm IDC predicted in February that sales would be down by about one percent.

The consumer trend toward mobile devices was not the only factor expected to hold down PC sales. The global economic picture remains sluggish and uneasy. And severe floods in Thailand disrupted production of hard disks. Another factor expected to hold down sales was potential buyers waiting for the debut of Windows 8, expected late this year.

But the PC market managed to overcome these pitfalls, however modestly. "Enterprise demand" was cited by analysts as the source of the unexpected gain.

The Need for Power

The reported sales results did not break down business sales by customer type. But while large enterprises are certainly the largest individual customers, it seems unlikely that the PC market as a whole would have performed over expectations if midsize businesses were not doing their hefty share of the pulling.

These firms may be replacing older machines rather than ramping up their firm-wide numbers of PCs. But they are replacing those older machines.

The reason is possibly that for all the talk (and even reality) of the consumerization of IT, there are real, practical limits to the use of consumer mobile devices in the IT environment. People in midsize firms' IT shops do "consume" a lot of content, but they also produce a lot of content, a task for which the iPad, let alone smartphones, is not really suited.

IT and other workers generate text and graphics. They also interact in sophisticated ways with complex business applications, notably business analytics and CRM solutions. These technologies work best with substantial horsepower at the point of interaction--which is why the business PC is likely to remain with us for a good long time to come.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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