iPhones and Androids pouring into the enterprise -- now what?

It's no longer just a BlackBerry world: New smartphones in business pose real challenges for IT

It's no surprise that a new generation of smartphones is headed for business. What is surprising is how fast those devices are appearing on IT's plate -- and how more and more of those smartphones are not BlackBerrys.

What's more, IT staffs will have to cope with demands from the top of their organizations to support a wide variety of mobile apps, to make those phones part of the full corporate network, and to cope with the reality that smartphones in business are increasingly owned by employees, not the company.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Discover how to say yes to (almost) any smartphone in your business. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Those are the major findings of a survey of 150 Fortune 500 CTOs, CIOs, and CSOs commissioned by Trust Digital, shortly before the mobile management vendor was acquired by McAfee in June.

Unlike many surveys that ask decision-makers what they might do in the future, this one asked the IT executives what they already have planned for the next 6 to 12 months, says David Goldschlag, vice president of mobile technology for McAfee. "What surprised me was the desire to integrate those devices with the full network, including the VPN. In the past, enterprises didn't want to do this for phones," he tells me.

iPhones and Androids join BlackBerrys in business
The BlackBerry, of course, has long held the dominant share of business-oriented smartphones. But the runaway success of the iPhone and Android platforms is changing that far faster than one might have expected.

According to the survey, one-third of the IT execs will be managing mobile platforms other than the BlackBerry by sometime next year. Many businesses, says Goldschlag, are already moving to the iPhone and are planning to add Android support. There is less support for Windows Phone 7, Hewlett-Packard's WebOS, and Nokia's Symbian, he said, although the survey did not actually quantify the exact share of each platform.

Moving to such a heterogeneous environment not only creates problems for IT, it creates problems for vendors like McAfee. "Customers don't want a security environment for each platform; they want one [environment]," Goldschlag says. At the moment, McAfee itself can't quite deliver that standard -- it has one product for BlackBerry and another that covers a variety of newer-generation smartphones. By next year, though, the vendor expects to have a unified product.

The survey showed that three-quarters of the companies -- most of which already support email via the BlackBerry -- will add new types of mobile applications for smartphones. "Like a laptop, the smartphone should do everything," says Goldschlag. The survey didn't quantify those apps, but anecdotally, he says, mobile CRM is popular, as are applications tailored for industry verticals such as pharmaceuticals.

It's OK to bring your iPhones and Androids to work
By and large, BlackBerrys in business are owned by the user's employer. But that's changing, the survey found. About a third of the executives said they will soon allow personal smartphones on the network. (A survey by Forrester Research this past winter suggested about half of businesses already let employees bring in their own smartphones.) "Governance, not ownership," is the real issue, says Goldschlag.

There are a number of reasons for the shift: Users would like to stop carrying two cell phones -- one for personal use and another for business, particularly email -- and employers figure that if an employee owns a smartphone, he or she already has a data plan and the company won't have to pay for it. Perhaps most significant, employees are telling their mangers that the applications they need aren't available on the BlackBerry and they will be more productive using an alternative device.

In fact, according to another survey by online measurement company Crowd Science, nearly 40 percent of BlackBerry users prefer Apple's iPhone as their next smartphone purchase, while a third of them would switch to the Android operating system.

Nearly 40 percent of the companies will integrate new smartphones with existing infrastructure, including Wi-Fi, VPN, and PKI. "They don't want to develop a new management or security infrastructure for them," says Goldschlag. He adds that support for new devices is strong across many verticals -- including, surprisingly, financial services, traditionally the most security-conscious segment.

All of this raises significant management concerns, but within a year, we should have a much better idea of how well smartphones are actually working for business and for IT. We'll also see how well RIM meets the challenge as the newcomers flood onto its turf.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

This article, "iPhones and Androids pouring into the enterprise -- now what?," 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.

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