Does it seem to you that everyone and his brother wants to bring his own gear into the office now? You've got people wanting to bring their Apple iPads to work, people who want to use their own iPhones or Android smartphones instead of company-issued BlackBerries, and someone out there has surely tried to bring an Xbox Kinect to work for ... uh ... 3D motion analysis? Yeah! That's the ticket!
OK, so maybe no one has tried, successfully, to get an Xbox Kinect into the office, but people are always trying to bring their tech toys to work. As Patrick Thibodeau tweeted from this year's Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders conference, "CIOs who don't support employee-owned devices, smartphones, iPads, etc., may be a minority: i.e. dinosaurs."
This isn't just talk. According to Nielsen's latest smartphone market research, BlackBerry maker RIM is in a marketing-share dead heat with Apple's iOS and Google's Android, but it's losing ground. Forty-three percent of recent smartphone buyers purchased an Android device, while 26% chose an Apple iOS device and 20% opted for a BlackBerry.
Of course, some companies, such as Wells Fargo, just say no to all personal phones and tablets. They do seem to be in the minority, though. But what the heck is a CIO, CTO or anyone in IT support to do? Support multiple platforms with the same budget? That's exactly what most companies seem to be trying to do. But there are no serious management tools that can handle iPads, iPhones and Android phones. There are companies trying to do it -- Good Technologies and BoxTone come to mind -- but no one has emerged as a market leader.
There are complications beyond that. Android Market, as we painfully discovered recently, has real security problems. What's the IT department to do? Turn off the app store functionality? How? Remove user-installed applications? I don't think so! Insist that users only run approved applications? Good luck with that! Insist they all install an antivirus program of the company's choice? Well, that's probably doable, but it's not perfect.
The problem isn't just the IT department's, though. Let's say an iPhone user gets laid off and the powers that be want all corporate e-mails off the phone now. How do you deal with that? It's a darn good question, and I don't have a great answer. I don't think anyone does at this point.
This isn't the first time we have run into this kind of problem. I can remember well when PCs were first coming into the office. In the places I worked in the '70s and '80s -- Beltway bandit IT firms -- many of the first PCs belonged to employees. IT kept trying to keep us on mainframes or minicomputers, but once you went PC, you couldn't go back.
Now, IT faces the same problems. Then, it was a horde of CP/M and MS-DOS PCs, which were, more or less, compatible with one another. Today, it's several different platforms -- phones, tablets and laptops -- using an even wider variety of operating systems -- four different versions of Android at last count, Apple's iOS, WP7, HP's webOS -- the list goes on and on.
I wish I had an easy answer. I don't. You may want to get users to standardize on one official platform, but they're determined to go their own way -- apparently with corporate proprietary data in their pocket.
Back in the day. there wasn't a solution either. Eventually, for better or for worse, IT settled on Microsoft products for the desktop, and then the laptop. I don't see that happening this time. Microsoft only managed to do it the first time thanks to illegal pressure on PC vendors. In this go-round, Microsoft is barely a player on the new platforms, Apple still has little interest in the business market, and everyone else is going their own way.
It's going to be a rough few years in the IT business. I'm just glad that while I'll be covering it, I won't be in it. Good luck, guys and gals. You're going to need it.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.