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.”
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And the device that many users are starting to bring into the corporate environment is Apple’s iPhone. “A couple of people have iPhones-they walk around like peacocks,” said Greg Smith, CIO of the World Wildlife Fund.
That’s ruffling the feathers of Smith and other IT executives, who look at the iPhone and don’t see a corporate device. “It’s not an effective device unless it’s fully integrated,” Smith said, pointing to traits that are keeping the iPhone on the outside of many large organizations (see related story, Page 36).
The challenge to IT
it is the problem of integrating-and securing-the multifunction device that brings IT squarely into the picture.
Charged with enabling productivity while securing data and keeping costs in line, IT professionals must not only understand the productivity case for a mobile device that is a telephone, an e-mail terminal and a Web browser-and may also be a computer and GPS device-but also find a way to manage it in a manner akin to handling standard office PCs.
Ideally, an IT manager will be able to remotely configure a multifunction device, load software on it, set policies governing passwords, implement encryption and wipe the device clean by remote control should it be lost or stolen.
Companies must also decide whether to forbid certain content-such as personally identifiable information-from ever residing on mobile devices, and then to enforce such policies.
It’s a tall order that a number of different vendors-including Research In Motion, Nokia, IBM Tivoli and Microsoft-are addressing to varying degrees. Microsoft, for example, boosted its mobile management capabilities with its System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, which will be available next quarter. The software features support for Active Directory and offers mobile VPN capabilities, device encryption, and remote device wipe, according to Microsoft.
With many employees using cell phones as much as or more than they use their office phones, some organizations are seeking to tie the two together under a single management system. To that end, vendors are offering technology to link mobile devices to corporate PBXes.
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For example, with its acquisition of Ascendent Systems two years ago, RIM got software that turns smart phones such as RIM’s BlackBerry into extensions of office phones. RIM’s Ascendent unit now sells software that allows administrators to set policies that apply equally to desktop and mobile devices and to receive call reports showing mobile and desktop usage patterns.
But perhaps the most significant challenge is providing a strong platform for application development.
“It is horrible today to do development on phones,” said Fran Rabuck, an independent consultant on mobile technologies and an eWeek Corporate Partner. “There is no common browser, [so you have to write] for 15 to 20 different browsers.”
Also making development difficult, Rabuck said, is the short life-span of mobile devices. “By the time you’ve got a new application, you’re into a new generation of devices,” he said.
Google is looking to alleviate these problems with its Android project and affiliated Open Handset Alliance, but the cross-platform Android SDK (software development kit) is available only in preview form. Until Android or some other solution emerges, the plethora of mobile browsers and the varying support for different languages on each will compel organizations to standardize on a single device rather than support multiple platforms.
Device of choice
indeed, many organizations have resolved their device dilemma by choosing to standardize on a single device platform. And, more often than not, that platform is the BlackBerry. “The BlackBerry is still far and away the leader in the enterprise,” said IDC analyst Sean Ryan.
Case in point: Merrill Lynch selected the BlackBerry as its platform of choice. Three years ago, Merrill Lynch supported 70 corporate BlackBerry users from a single BlackBerry server. Now, the giant brokerage manages 22,000 corporate BlackBerry devices from 60 BlackBerry Enterprise servers.
“We’re adding 500 per month,” said Kristofor Swanson, vice president of learning and talent management for mobile strategy at Merrill Lynch. Swanson said he foresees a day when nearly 100 percent of Merrill Lynch’s 64,000 employees will be BlackBerry users.
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The next step is to meld the BlackBerrys into Merrill Lynch’s corporate culture, which Swanson is trying to do through custom-developed applications. “There is a natural demand for BlackBerrys,” he said. “I’m trying to -Merrill-ize’ them with in-house applications such as compliance training and employee evaluation.”
Merrill Lynch’s employee evaluation application is well-established on the PC. Managers use it to rate their direct reports in a number of categories on a five-point scale. The uptake so far on mobile devices has been modest, however. “We offered it to 8,000 people on the BlackBerry, and 1,400 people chose to use it,” said Swanson.
The WWF’s Smith said his organization is developing a BlackBerry application that will allow users to enter information about a fund-raising prospect into a custom screen; that data would then be saved on a server. The WWF is testing integration of the application with its CRM (customer relationship management) system.
The WWF also is testing an application for naturalists to use in counting wildlife species in the field. The information can be saved on a BlackBerry and then transmitted to remote computers where analytics can be performed.
Other companies have approved a variety of devices in the workplace, increasing the number of choices for users but also increasing administrative burdens.
This can be particularly challenging when regulatory concerns are an issue. “People travel more,” said Rob Israel, CIO of John C. Lincoln Health Network. “They use a laptop and a PDA, and they want to use different technologies, like iPods. But in health care, with HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], we need to protect the integrity of our network from miscellaneous equipment coming in.”
While guarding against unauthorized devices, Israel has approved several different multifunction devices so that users can leverage the one that suits their particular needs best.
To secure the systems, Israel is using software from Lumension that handles devices from different vendors. “We like the multitude of products we can authorize and use with the Lumension program,” he said. “People like some variety with applications and devices. This way, people can pick and choose what they use. So we’re not just Big Brother. We like the fact that we can have multiple devices.”
The standard device at John C. Lincoln Health Network is any of several BlackBerry models or the Palm Treo with the GoodLink messaging service.
With feelings sometimes running high around personal devices, it may be wise to offer a choice, even if it’s a limited one. But today’s corporate policy is just that-today’s.
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Plenty could change on the application development front if Android takes hold as an industry-standard platform. With a single development platform, a company could create a single corporate application for a range of devices-not only similar devices from different vendors but also devices with a variety of capabilities corresponding to individual users’ needs.
A wild card on the development front is the expected emergence of an Apple SDK for the iPhone in February. Such an SDK could spur interest in the iPhone as a rival application platform. “We’ve had requests about the iPhone. I want [Steve] Jobs to release the SDK,” said Israel.
And with product lines from all vendors being refreshed at frequent intervals-a new iPhone is expected this summer, for example-no corporate mobile computing standard will be forever cast in stone.
What also remains to be seen is how corporate users respond to the “corporatization” of their personal devices.
Just as the PC evolved from an independent machine to a component of corporate IT infrastructures, multifunction mobile devices are increasingly being bound by organizational tethers. While the productivity applications and security support that comes with tighter control will probably be welcome by most users, the individual character of the devices and the tendency of users to employ corporate devices for personal purposes is in jeopardy.
“I think there could be a lot of tension until the product space reaches maturity and virtually all products come out of the box with a full feature set, and there are fewer options and accessories to choose from,” said Jaffe.
One thing is certain: As long as business workers are on the road, the line between business and personal time will be blurred-and the push-pull between business and personal use of mobile devices will continue. The challenge for IT is to find the balance among application support, security and manageability that businesses require, while letting users feel a sense of connection with and ownership of their own devices so that they use them to full advantage.