Beyond 'Just say no': A framework for business mobile device adoption

Since Apple introduced the iPhone two years ago, more end users have adopted mobile devices for personal use, forcing businesses to ask themselves what criteria they should use in deploying them. Although sophisticated mobile phones are less likely to be corporate assets than PCs, end users often want to commingle business and personal data on their personal mobile devices. The iPhone, in particular, has made it hard to ignore this trend, since it has often ended up on a corporate network simply because the CEO had one and wanted to use it as a business tool. With new devices such as the Palm Pre and a rumored new iPhone on the way, it's time for IT departments to think about when and how to support them.

That thinking should focus on three areas: sync, security and support.

Sync. Devices must co-exist with the existing business infrastructure. For many businesses, that means they must support Microsoft Exchange through the Exchange ActiveSync protocol. At a minimum, devices must provide support for over-the-air calendar, contact and e-mail synchronization and the ability to view Microsoft Office attachments. Phones need not provide the highest integration to Exchange, but must meet the needs of most users.

Security. There will always be some level of risk deploying any class of mobile devices. The key is for IT to balance risk with keeping users happy. Saying no to users is always the easiest approach, but savvy IT departments have learned to say yes, while attaching conditions that help keep things as secure as possible. This includes mandating password protection for devices, enabling remote management capabilities for lost or stolen devices, and using encryption for removable memory cards.

Support. Businesses do not want to deploy 10,000 mobile devices; they'd prefer to deploy one device, replicated 10,000 times. To reduce the impact of supporting multiple devices and platforms, IT organizations need to be able to remotely configure, administer and, in case of emergency, wipe a device.

The initial release of the iPhone failed in all three of these areas. But Apple has rectified these issues with Version 2, and the iPhone now meets at least minimum corporate requirements for sync, security and support. Version 3 of Apple's iPhone platform looks to further refine those features. And while it's still too early to properly evaluate the Palm Pre, it looks like it too will pass the test of being "good enough" for business use in the first release (something that's rare for Version 1 devices).

Ultimately, IT is a service organization that must meet the needs of internal customers. Creating a proper framework that allows for a diversity of platforms and devices will lead to higher end-user satisfaction while at the same time easing the burden for support. Rather than say no to new devices, IT departments need to justify the reasons for not allowing their use or adjust their framework for device adoption.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret LLC. His weblog can be found at Gartenblog.net. Contact him at mgartenberg@optonline.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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