Personal Devices Create a Dilemma for Corporate IT

What happens when personal devices bump up against corporate IT?

The place where business and personal life converge is bound to be fraught with tension. That's certainly the case when it comes to mobile devices such as smart phones in the workplace.

During the last decade and a half, cell phones, pagers, PDAs and handheld computers saw their fortunes rise and fall as one wave of corporate adoption followed another. Today, devices that provide all these units' functions-and more-are becoming de rigueur at many companies.

Indeed, organizations-and individuals-are snapping up these portable, multi-function devices. According to IDC's five-year mobile enterprise device usage forecast, worldwide shipments of corporate mobile devices will surge at a compound annual growth rate of 54 percent, to more than 82 million units shipped in 2011.

IDC has also found that 70 percent of converged mobile device users in the United States prefer to employ their gadgets for both business and personal purposes. And, according to IDC analyst Sean Ryan, more than 40 percent of U.S. workers have "mobilized themselves" by purchasing devices for both business and personal use.

So, there are the devices that IT has approved and supports, and there are the devices that end users bring in through that notorious back door.

Corporate IT hasn't seen anything similar to this since the early days of the PC, when renegade machines began showing up on desktops like mushrooms after a heavy rain.

"This reminds me of when white boxes were coming in and the glass houses ignored them," said Judy Brown, an independent consultant and eWeek Corporate Partner.

And just as that generation of personal productivity devices was for a time the bane of the IT manager's existence, these little devices can sometimes cause big problems for IT pros.

These little devices can sometimes cause big problems for IT managers.

"It's a royal pain," said Brian Jaffe, an IT director in New York. "The administrative activities surrounding handheld devices easily become a nightmare."

Kristofor Swanson, vice president of learning and talent management for mobile strategy at Merrill Lynch, in New York, agreed: "People want a converged device," Swanson said. "People want one device-a personal cell phone and a corporate cell phone; they want a device to watch movies [and] read personal e-mail and work e-mail."