ANALYSIS: Planning to Support Employee-Owned Devices

Mobile administrators need to think about how to support employee-owned smartphones, and new offerings such as RIM's BES Express could be just the ticket.

Boxtone, a mobile device management vendor, recently announced five enterprise mobility management predictions for the year 2015. Among their prognostications, they recommended that enterprises must prepare for the continued influx of a diverse mix of employee-owned mobile devices, and that IT must plan to actively support multiple mobile platforms and devices in the future rather than staying slavishly devoted to a single mobile stack.

By the numbers in the United States, it certainly looks like BlackBerry and something that works with ActiveSync will be the way to go, but what are the ways to provide that support?

According to a recent Gartner study, the iPhone, WebOS devices and Android phones accounted for 19.8 percent of global smartphone sales in 2009. Although the release doesn't break out corporate purchases versus personal ones, it is safe to assume that, to date, few of those devices were bought by enterprise purchasers for enterprise usage.

Instead, employees bought those devices for personal use and then looked to attach them to corporate networks or services. Enterprise IT's reaction has been all over the map for awhile, ranging from outright bans to cautious acceptance. But in the last few months, I've seen an increasing number of companies explicitly permitting and supporting employee-owned devices-particularly the iPhone. Unfortunately, for many, the management infrastructure to keep tabs on these devices is scarce.

Microsoft's ActiveSync is the protocol that enables e-mail synchronization for these mobile platforms, and it can also provide mobile administrators with policy controls over these devices via Exchange tools, although it can be a crapshoot whether the handset maker implemented the technology to allow this. Also, Exchange does a lousy job of tracking ActiveSync usage, so little may be known about the users and devices accessing the network in this way.

Mobile management vendors such as Boxtone or Zenprise are trying to fill that need now, tracking ActiveSync connections and logging details such as user name, time of last e-mail sync or read action, as well as some details about the device such as phone number, device type and serial number. Actual policy enforcement and control over ActiveSync devices, however, remains in the dev queue for these vendors.

The Gartner study also revealed that BlackBerry accounted for 19.9 percent of global smartphone sales. While corporate buyers likely accounted for a significant portion of these sales, a quick look at's best-selling cell phone list indicates BlackBerry continues to have a lot of traction with consumers as well (three of the top five).

BlackBerry is, of course, renowned for its enterprise suitability as integration with a backend BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) typically provides outstanding message and PIM delivery, policy controls, logging and security options. But without BES, a lot of that enterprise suitability goes out the window. And a lot of companies that use BlackBerrys don't have BES.

That's why RIM's forthcoming BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express seems so enticing. RIM designed the new software to be relatively lightweight-it purports to be installable directly on an Exchange Server or a Windows Small Business Server and still support up to 75 users (or up to 2,000 on its hardware). Express only offers a subset of the policy controls available through BES (35 compared to more than 450), but the price is certainly right-free for the software and the client access licenses.

Businesses previously without centralized controls and enterprise services could suddenly be able to enforce policy and security, while providing additional services (such as wireless calendar and contact sync to Exchange) not otherwise possible to employee-managed BlackBerrys. Users won't even need to spring for the extra cost of the BES-enabled BlackBerry data plan.

Even larger enterprises with BES already in place could benefit from Express, using the new server exclusively for employee-owned devices (and thereby saving costs for client access licenses), while corporate-owned and fully managed devices would get additional benefits and levels of services through the BES.