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Bank of America still not ready for iPhone

IT worries about adding iPhone to the many wireless devices it already manages

May 5, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite Apple Inc.'s determination to make the iPhone enterprise-ready, there are still some holdouts.

Bank of America Corp. offers a mobile banking application that runs on the iPhone smartphone, but the bank does not allow its many employees to use iPhones at work, a bank official said at the Go Mobile 2009 conference here.

The biggest concern is that the bank can't centrally manage the iPhone as easily as it can manage BlackBerry devices from Research In Motion Ltd., said Jamie Young, vice president of enterprise technology at Bank of America.

Young mentioned the problem during a question-and-answer session at the conference. "We restrict users to BlackBerry, much to the chagrin of Apple and others," he said.

Young pointed out that with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, he can easily shut off the camera function of a BlackBerry device because BES's central management function allows him to do so.

But noting that users are clamoring for the iPhone and other devices, he said he wants to know if central management functions are coming for devices other than BlackBerry.

Young told Computerworld that many thousands of BofA workers use company-issued BlackBerry devices, making the bank one of the largest BES deployments in the world.

Many employees may also be using iPhones, but only for personal use, he said, adding that they pay for the Apple devices themselves.

Apple officials did not appear at the conference and could not be reached to comment for this story, but Apple has in the past discussed large corporate iPhone deployments, and analysts have identified several large enterprise iPhone deployments that have been successful, including ones at Kraft Foods Inc. and Oracle Corp.

Young said he believes that the large businesses using the iPhone are not in banking or financial services. "I don't know of a bank using it," he said, noting that security worries are higher for banks than they are for other companies.

Officials from both Sybase Inc. and Good Technology Inc. said they make products to centrally manage a range of wireless devices, including the iPhone, over wireless networks.

"Apple and others are just not there yet" with central device management, said Doug Brackbill, executive vice president at Good Technology. "Good's tools give remote access to device cameras and locking of devices, so the tools are here today and only getting better."

Brackbill said a single management product for various devices makes the most sense. "What might happen is that a big company gets the Apple BES and the Palm BES, so you could get 20 different BES servers," he said.

Sybase CIO Jim Swartz said that the Sybase iAnywhere central management product can be used to kill devices that have been lost or stolen. "It's been pretty impressive with an array of tests, and we even get periodic requests to turn off devices, even if they have encryption running on them," he said. "Some might say our management is better than BES."

The problem of having to manage many device platforms affected one IT administrator from a large company who asked that his name not be used.

"We have 40 form factors and 12 operating systems," the administrator said. "I don't need that headache. I feel like a crime scene investigator, trying to find all the dead bodies out there," he said, referring to all the new devices he has discovered in use at his organization in recent months.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

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