Before the iPhone hit the market on June 29, I remarked that many enterprise IT managers would wring their hands over the coming of the devices and make threatening noises in hopes of warding off the invasion. And, that soon thereafter, we would find that this iPhone FUD was overplayed.
Now what I predicted appears to be happening. Apple sold something like a half million phones (or more) over a long weekend and customers brought the toys into work. The message boards are buzzing with workarounds and dubious pitches for hosted Exchange mail services that are supposed to work better than your home-grown variety.
However, now were seeing the first wave of real productivity announcements for business users: iPhone support for several CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms, and direct support for Exchange mail.
The announcements of NetSuites SuitePhone on July 12, as well as an iPhone version of Etelos CRM Professional and Etelos CRM Enterprise on July 11. Down deep, these products are expressions of support for WebKit, the open-source HTML rendering engine that is used by Apples Safari browser in Mac OS X, the iPhone and now for Windows.
A NetSuite product manager told eWEEKs Renee Boucher Ferguson that the company had worked closely with Apple on WebKit support over the past several years, requiring additional QA “to get the nuances of NetSuite on Safari.” The SuitePhone support is rolled into the forthcoming Version 2007.0 of the application.
Also on July 12, Synchronica announced “native” iPhone support for Exchange servers. According to the company, its Mobile Gateway 3.0 will connect iPhone users to Exchange mailboxes using Microsofts secure OWA (Outlook Web Access) protocol, rather than exposing the messages with IMAP.
(For what its worth, I like the look of the iPhoneDrive software from Ecamm Network, which lets Mac users manage files directly on the iPhone. The software bypasses iTunes and provides some of the flash-drive capabilities offered by the iPod. Now, I dont have an iPhone and havent tested this product out, but it sounds useful.)
Of course, these third-party rollouts are exactly what enterprise IT hates about Apple: Its business support is not tied up with string and a bow and ready to install. It requires some integration.
The iPhone conundrum isnt so much about how the work will get done or whether the iPhone is a suitable platform for business productivity. Its all about who is leading the charge for innovation: users or IT pros.
As I pointed out in my earlier column, the culture clash between clients and the IT department is growing. Gartner analysts call this trend “consumerization,” and the iPhone is just the latest punching bag, aka computing environment.
No doubt, the announcements this week for Exchange support and CRM mobile apps will certainly provide more ammunition for the user side.
Readers came down on both sides of the issue.
For example, Robert Mesler, a Columbus, Ohio-based IT manager, sent in a 1,200-word screed on Apple in the enterprise and beyond. He said when an “Apple person” gloats about this or that feature or capability or superiority over Windows, “it makes any IT admins blood curdle.”
Heres Meslers take on the iPhone (after running down all the security and integration bads):
“When all is said and done, the iPhones greatest risk is that it provides the people who can afford it (generally the higher-paid, more influential and important people) a great way to waste time. The highest risk to any corporate environment is loss of productivity as your bosses run from office to office, sharing pictures and watching a video of little Bobbys turn at bat at last nights Little League game,” he said.
Of course, nowadays, theres no need for an iPod or iPhone to share videos around the office. Perhaps its time to install the QoS box on the network and block out YouTube videos or streaming sports videos.
Other IT managers said support for mobile devices could be done more simply, mainly by putting the onus of security onto the user.
Cedric Puddy, an IS director based in Kitchener, Ontario, said his organization supports BlackBerry Enterprise Server unconditionally.
If the user device supports POP/IMAP over SSL, they can use it, Puddy said, but support will be offered on a best-effort, time-available, basis. “Ultimately its the end users problem if we choose to punt the problem,” he said.
At the same time, Puddy said that users will be held liable if they lose the device and any harm results. He added that this wasnt such a worry since his companys core confidentiality requirements and risks were relatively low.
“But if your device cant do SSL, it cant connect to our mail server—end of discussion,” he said.
Still, I was surprised at the number of letters that supported this consumerization trend in enterprise technology or backed user-side implementations.
Colleen Beale, a practice manager with the Baltimore-based VAR Data Networks, said technology is always changing, despite the wishes of the IT pros.
“My IT department is still standing firm on keeping out anything to do with BlackBerrys because they are not PC-based (we use Windows-based Treos with ActiveSync for Exchange). But technology moves forward no matter how many well-intentioned, yet insulated IT people resist change. If you took a vote, I would imagine you would find most of them heralding the days of DOS, when things were simple and you didnt need anything flashy, like a mouse,” she chided.
She said that while IT shouldnt be in the “innovation game,” businesses must keep up with the demands of their customers and the culture to stay competitive. She offered a list of values for future IT.
“Have a group that helps bridge the gap, the ones that arent afraid of changing the status quo, but whose job it is to figure out how to make the next generation of technology stable and secure, embracing it with caution not dread,” Beale said.
In my column, I mentioned a report of an IT manager who was lobbying his clients against the iPhone and the Macintosh. He said he would quit before he would allow a Mac in his environment.
This drew a strong response from Daniel Reiss, president and CEO of Automated Terminal Systems, of Washington. He said that IT consultant would be quickly out on the curb.
“Too many [people] in IT departments do not understand their function, or who actually earns the revenue that allows [IT workers] to be paid regularly. It is not the function of the IT department to block technology or innovation. Neither is it the mission of IT workers to make their own jobs easier, rather to facilitate the work of the end users. Whatever benefits [users] will benefit the organization and ultimately IT,” he said.
In addition, he expressed concerns over the increasing demands of networking and security for IT, which could be leading to a lack of understanding of productivity applications used by departments in the organization.
From each site I visit and each conference I attend, its evident that corporate management and departmental users seem to have a different idea of the mission and execution of the IT function than the IT department. Whether the topic under discussion is application support, storage, data retention and provision policies, client functionality, or iPhone, theres a growing culture clash over goals and values between IT workers and their clients.
Perhaps thats something that needs fixing before any more innovation takes place?
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