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Looking for the major trends that will shape technology spending in 2011 and beyond? Want to know about the new tablet computers that will be hitting the market this year? The rumored purpose-built-for-tablets Windows operating system from Microsoft? The innovations coming in displays and phones and other mobile systems? Not to mention the army of new apps on the way? Then you probably are paying attention to what’s happening in Las Vegas this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. And not just because you’re interested in putting the coolest new consumer gadget in your own pocket.

Technology for business and technology for consumers used to be a strictly separate affair. IT departments looking to protect corporate assets from data theft and virus attacks banned consumer devices from the network, even if they were PCs running the same operating system as standard corporate fare and protected by anti-virus and firewalls.

The thought was, and still is at some companies, that the cost of supporting these end points and remediation of any damage they might cause was more than the benefit organizations would get for allowing such rogue devices onto the network.

But that locked-down IT organization has yielded to other pressures. Declines in spending on upgraded PCs and smartphones have led consumers to bring their own technology to work. CXO-level executives have demanded that their iPhones be supported. And IT organizations and solution providers have been called upon to support email on Android smartphones and Apple iPhones, not to mention the growing tide of tablets that’s coming to a business near you. A handful of large corporations are said to be looking at large-scale iPad implementations.

And the rise of the cloud and browser-based computing has made it possible for users to access corporate applications from their own devices, whether they are at work or home or fueling up at Starbucks. The rise of’s cloud-based enterprise app software provides just another example of the momentum behind this trend.

Not to mention, some companies are letting users select their own platforms, whether it’s a PC or a Mac, when they are hired. It’s considered a benefit for employees used to working on a particular platform to be able to choose to continue using it.

It’s an enormous change. The buying dollars for client machines have shifted from IT or the CFO to the whim of the individual user – a consumer. Just as the industry’s biggest U.S. trade show has shifted from one that catered to “Computer Dealers” to one that caters to “Consumer Electronics.” That’s why hardware vendors have shifted attention to gaining market share in data centers and in services and in cloud computing – areas where they can still sell to the CFO or big decision maker within a corporation, or else the consumer side of client computing. Witness HP’s purchase of Palm and the WebOS.

And yet, that spending by consumers on technology, including technology they will bring to work represents a huge portion of technology spending. Consider this: in July (the most recent update available) the Consumer Electronics Association forecast that the consumer electronics industry would see overall shipment revenues of $174.9 billion in the United States in 2010. The organization further projected those revenues to climb to an all-time high of more than $182 billion in 2011.

So while the opportunity for selling client devices such as PCs into companies may be shifting away from the VAR and IT solution provider, another opportunity has been created. That opportunity is the more margin-rich one of integrating all these disparate clients with their disparate operating systems into a single functioning whole, and perhaps creating the apps that corporations of the future will rely on to help run their businesses, from customer service to business intelligence. Are you ready?

Jessica Davis is Editor-in-Chief of Channel Insider.