iPhone vs. IT: Clash of the Culture Titans

Opinion: Who really controls technology in the enterprise: the IT department or the client users? With the recent iPhone introduction as the starting point, readers sound off on the topic.

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.

/zimages/7/28571.gifTrolltech developer Lars Knoll recently told Linux developers about WebKit support in the Qt framework. Click here to read more.

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.

/zimages/7/28571.gifTo read about the iPhones first bugs, click here.

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.

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