Smartphones storm the enterprise -- and no one gets hurt

Nike and Cisco have opened the gates to employee-owned smartphones and tablets. Despite IT's fears, the world didn't end

Art King, a burly and affable senior IT exec for Nike, doesn't look much like a revolutionary. But don't be fooled -- King is leading the charge for change. He's pushing the brass at Nike and as many other IT leaders as he can buttonhole to open the corporate gates to a plethora of mobile devices owned and largely provisioned by employees.

"We can't put users in jail, we can't impact the user's experience. We have to change, and I love it," he said during a discussion at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco this week.

[ Read Galen Gruman's strategy for successful BYOD, and learn how to manage iPads, iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other mobile devices in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Nike's IT department, which supports more than 30,000 users around the globe, is rapidly finding ways to move beyond the trendy talk of BYOD, or bring your own device, and make employee-owned smartphones and tablets a normal part of day-to-day operations.

With business users gobbling up handhelds -- a recent survey by Forrester Research found that 48 percent of knowledge workers will buy mobile devices whether their company approves or not -- employees simply don't want to put up with old ways of doing things. Says King: "Users say to me, 'Why is everything I do in my personal [computing] life like snapping my fingers, but everything at work takes years?'"

Another giant, Cisco Systems, whose IT department supports more than 50,000 employees and contractors, is moving even faster than Nike. In just two years, the networking giant has embraced a broad spectrum of mobile devices and used its internal experience as a template to develop new technologies it can sell to customers.

"The security team has a chance to step up and lead," says Tom Gillis general manager of Cisco's security and technology business unit. "If you don't, people will bring in the devices anyway and you'll [then] be hard-pressed to secure them," he tells me.

Indeed, when a customer tells Gillis that his or her company doesn't allow employee-owned mobile devices at work, he asks: "How do you keep them out?"

Nike and Cisco are probably closer to the cutting edge on the mobile tech issue than the average company. "There's still a lot of conservatism in IT. It does take time to change," says King, Nike's global infrastructure lead.

True enough. But the examples of Nike and Cisco are clear indications that the consumerization of IT is not only here, but it can work in a large enterprise. Certainly the biggest hesitation on the part of business executives continues to be security. "The first thing you hear is 'it can't be secured,'" says Gillis. "But it can. The lesson from our deployment is you can create better security by embracing these devices and solutions."

IT comfort level: Advantage, Apple
Is Nike now mobile heaven? Not quite. Employees can bring their iPhones and iPads to work and gain full access to applications and information within the firewall. And the company pools subscriber minutes, so no one gets an ugly dose of bill shock. How about Android? Not so much. "Google," says King, "just doesn't get my issues."

The Android platform is fragmented, with device makers implementing the OS differently, making it much harder for IT to develop a consistent way to handle them. King figures that will change, possibly because the acquisition of Motorola Mobility will add technologies Google can use to strengthen the platform. For now, Android users at Nike as a result do not have full behind-the-firewall access.

Cisco gives full access rights to Android devices. "I don't want to be in a world where there is just one operating system," says Gillis. In one sense, he's speaking as a vendor that sees opportunity helping customers manage multiple platforms. He also views the multiplatform approach as a good one for Cisco, even if it causes some headaches. "It's not about making life easy for IT; it is about making life easier for users and giving them what they need." (Cisco also sells an Android-based videoconferencing tablet, the Cius.)

Here comes the virtual phone
As smartphones push into the enterprise, there's lots of debate about the best way to secure them. One method that created a buzz at Mobilize is virtualization: creating phones with dual personae, one for business, one for personal use.

Later this year, Verizon will introduce an enterprise-oriented product that essentially virtualizes a smartphone, says Christopher Kemmerer, director of the carrier's Mobility Solutions group. A user could, for example, have all of his or her corporate applications in one virtual phone that meets corporate security standards and still have the freedom to use any private application on the other virtual phone. Because the product hasn't been officially announced, Kemmerer wouldn't provide a lot of details, but because Verizon and EMC VMware already work together closely, it's not much of a stretch to think that the companies are collaborating on the virtual phone technology.

Speaking at Mobilize, VMware CTO Stephen Herrod said his compay has already made deals with Samsung and LG to provide phones with a form of a hypervisor that would allow "a complete Android phone that lives in a bubble on the device." In theory, an employee could even have two phone numbers and two billing plans, one for each virtual phone, Herrod said. A virtualized phone also provides a solution to the issue of what to do when an employee who's has been using his own phone at work leaves the company. Wiping all proprietary information from the phone would be much simpler if it were in one discrete bubble.

The "dual-mode phone via virtualization" idea is not new: Citrix Systems has been showing off its "Nirvana" virtual-phone technology for several years. Motorola Mobility has been working on mobile virtualization as well. You don't need virtualization to accomplish the selective wiping; Apple's iOS already has this selective-wiping capability, when used with a mobile device management, or MDM, tool.

Although most of Verizon's wireless revenue is derived from consumer use, the work-based segment is growing rapidly and the carrier is already delivering "sandbox" solutions for all of the platforms it supports, Kemmerer told me. One knotty issue: Stringent regulation in other countries, particularly China, make it that much more difficult for employees to use their own phones.

Talking to execs like King and Gillis makes me think that there's a better, if less euphonious, acronym than BYOD. Call it UOIT, or user-oriented IT. The war between the two parties isn't over, and there will probably always be some tension. But at least when it comes to mobility, peace is finally in the air.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Smartphones storm the enterprise -- and no one gets hurt," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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