Not long ago, corporate IT departments --
from the CIO down to the systems admin -- were the unchallenged gatekeepers of the enterprise market. If they didn't approve, install or support an application, it didn't get deployed in a corporate-wide setting. But that's changing, thanks to the proliferation of programs delivered over the Internet.
When consulting giant Capgemini researched how many of its corporate customers were using Google Apps, for example, they found enough stealth users to begin supporting those business applications.
"We got a lot of responses like, 'we're using it, but don't tell the IT department,'" says Steve Jones, Capgemini's head of software-oriented architecture.
What's true for Google is applicable to startups, and venture capitalists are starting to look for young companies that can get their products into the enterprise through the back door. "We're looking for the sales model with the least friction, and today that usually means the Web," says Nick Sturiale, a partner in the Palo Alto, Calif. office of the venture firm Sevin Rosen Funds. "It's a lot harder to penetrate the enterprise through the front door" because of the sales staff and other resources often needed, Sturiale says.
Applying the strategy isn't without risks, however. If an application gets into an enterprise and causes security risks or other administrative havoc for the IT department, it could end up banned or hated by those folks -- many of whom have the memory of elephants. Even the mere fear of such problems can prevent deployment, as when some companies with Windows-based messaging systems decided not to install or support Apple's iPhone.
Still, the trend my be unstoppable, given the cost-saving potential and unique capabilities of many Web-based applications. And let's be honest here -- plenty of security risks come through the front door every day.