IT execs intrigued but skeptical of iPhone corporate support

Apple has 'never shown meaningful interest in the enterprise,' says one executive

Apple Inc. said today that it has enterprise support for its iPhone 2.0 beta release, but several senior IT executives expressed skepticism and even ridiculed Apple for having little big business expertise.

"Apple has never shown any meaningful interest in the enterprise space, so today's news seems to be driven more from the success of iPhone's adoption with consumers," said George McQuillister, client computing architect at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in San Francisco, which has 15 million customers. "The SDK [software developer's kit] release seems to want to say that Apple has the enterprise blessing and that everything is wine and roses, but I will believe it when I see it."

McQuillister said he had to issue a memo to 20,000 PG&E employees last summer after the first version of the iPhone was released to explain why his IT shop was not allowing iPhone use internally. "I was concerned it didn't have the management controls and security we needed," he explained.

And today? "I'm going to tell everybody the same thing, that it's too early for the adoption stage," McQuillister said. And if users protest? "I'll get bigger guards," he said with a laugh, acknowledging that the device is popular among PG&E workers.

Beyond the question of if the 2.0 release is even enterprise-ready from a technology standpoint, McQuillister questioned whether Apple in general has a serious enough attitude toward corporate customers to want their business in a major way.

"If you truly want the enterprise businesses, it seems to me you'd put together an entire package for all sorts of products needed in a large business," he added. "Maybe a major strategy is what's coming, and they are truly creating a new business model, but so far, I'd say there's no readily apparent enterprise objective."

Apple released a list of 10 companies that supported the 2.0 beta, including Cisco Systems, Nike, Disney and Microsoft, which makes the Exchange e-mail product that will be rolled out in the 2.0 upgrade in June.

In its statement, Apple quoted Roland Paanakker, CIO at Nike Inc., as saying he would "look forward to deploying more iPhones to more business users" because of the Exchange functionality.

Randy Brooks, senior vice president of IT for strategy and architecture at The Walt Disney Co., was quoted in the statement as saying that Apple had "really done their homework, addressing issues of security, manageability and integration." Brooks said that Disney has hundreds of iPhone users and that it expects the demand to "grow significantly with this release."

Two top-level IT managers at a large global financial company and a global consumer goods company, respectively, said in separate interviews that they were eagerly awaiting today's news, but they still needed more details around security to be able to say whether they could endorse using iPhones internally. Both asked to remain anonymous, citing company policies about being quoted in the press.

"I think today's news is positive," one of the executives said, adding that many employees have wanted to use the iPhone. "However, since the first launch, we have wanted a BlackBerry Enterprise Server-like product" to allow the enterprise to manage devices from its own server, the executive said. Short of that approach, with Exchange, this IT executive said it would be "mandatory" for Apple to release application programming interfaces that it can expose so third-party security providers could bolster the iPhone.

The executive said Apple was shown what security guarantees were needed under a secrecy agreement, but the company refused to honor its end. "We've been talking with Apple for eight months, and they haven't shared the information," the executive said. "That's only one-way sharing, and they have to change that mind-set if they want to make progress with us and the enterprise. Maybe they will eventually become more corporate-focused, but they are definitely NOT enterprise-focused now."

The other IT executive said support for Exchange would allow users "to hook into the corporate e-mail system, but [it] doesn't address many of the security, privacy and ROI concerns that still revolve around the platform."

The second executive said the news was not enough to make the iPhone a corporate-standard smart phone, adding, "possibly the SDK will allow for more robust business applications on the device, which could cause us to change our thinking, but I'm not convinced of this yet."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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