Business Hardware

Tech Generation Gap: Laptop or Smartphone?

Issuing corporate smart phones isn't just about catering to the preferences of the next generation. As a lower-cost alternative to company laptops, mobile phones might be better suited to the current economic climate.

Global consulting firm Accenture Ltd. revealed stark contrasts between Baby Boomers and Generation Y in a recent survey that polled 3,000 adults across the U.S. on their consumer electronics preferences and habits.

According to the survey, 50 percent of Boomers (aged 45 and up) prefer computers over all other consumer technology products, while 27 percent prefer mobile handsets. Of the Gen Y (18 to 24 years old) users polled, 51 percent would rather use mobile handsets and only 22 percent prefer PCs.

"As the mobile platform evolves, it's going to become a more important terminal to the corporate network than the traditional laptop," said Kumu Puri, senior executive at Accenture's consumer technology practice.

Puri recommended enterprise IT departments start thinking about where mobile applications are going to be used. "With Gen Y, as they grow up in the workplace, it will be a lot more about the mobile platform, which is a pretty big difference from where most enterprise applications are used today," she said.

Mobile applications are already being geared towards enterprise use, according to Tim Hickernell, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc.

While integration with mobile phones has mostly focused on personal information management (PIM) such as integrating scheduling and client data, there is a lot of movement toward enabling really functional types of transaction capabilities, said Hickernell.

"For example, ERP and CRM vendors are already extending not only their own clients but also fully functional Web clients to these phones as well for transactions to continue to be done from the field within the CRM system or various ERP systems," he said.

The ability to fully manipulate data within word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations is "still not there yet," added Hickernell, but this is to a certain extent "ripe for change."

Enterprises already have the opportunity to issue smart phones or leverage existing devices for employees who simply need access to corporate e-mail.

"This generation in particular is more likely to actually prefer their corporate e-mail if they need it on one of these smart phones than lugging around a laptop that needs to be booted up and connected to the Internet," said Hickernell.

But issuing corporate smart phones isn't just about catering to the preferences of the next generation. As a lower-cost alternative to company laptops, mobile phones might be better suited to the current economic climate.

"We've been doing a lot of research on cost-cutting and cost-containment strategies and one of the prevailing things that always comes up is whether or not there are excessive laptops," said Hickernell.

Enterprises should also look for opportunities to extend corporate e-mail to personal devices, he suggested.

Demand for connecting personal smart phones to enterprise networks is growing and it's an option companies should consider, according to Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of Enterprise Research at Yankee Group Research Inc.

"People don't want to carry a personal device and a corporate device. If they're willing to pay the money for a personal device, let them use it," he said.

However, there are more risks associated with a personal device because the employee owns it and it's hard to update, Kerrevala pointed out. "If the person loses it or there's a lot of corporate information on it and they walk out the door, then they take all those contacts with them," he said.

Employees who sync their personal devices to corporate networks should be allowed to if they agree to adhere to corporate standards first, advised Kerravala. "That's a good compromise," he said. "The user gets to use their own personal device. In return, they are willing to adhere to the corporate standards around security and usability."

One of the challenges, whether the phone belongs to the employee or the organization, is protecting company data, Hickernell pointed out. "You've got to ensure you are instating minimum security at least, which means enforcing a policy on the phone that locks the phone after inactivity and forces the employee to establish and use a PIN code of some sort," he said.

But mobile phones still pose less of a security risk than laptops, according to Kerravala. When a laptop is lost or stolen, the damage to the corporation is potentially huge, but it's more minimized with a mobile phone, he said.

"I think mobile phone security is ahead of laptop security," said Kerravala. "And a mobile phone is an always-on device, while a laptop is not. So securing a laptop is actually more difficult."

Companies can protect themselves by allowing the shift from laptops to smart phones take place, said Kerravala. "If all someone needs is access to e-mail and contact numbers, give them a mobile phone," he said.

Smart phones, however, raise challenges that enterprises don't face with laptops.

"The user interface is so different that it almost has to be personal preference. There's no mouse and keyboard, some people like touch screens and some people don't ... there's too many decision points in what people prefer in a mobile phone that it's very hard to make that a corporate standard," said Kerravala.

Selecting a device that is only available through one carrier creates another potential obstacle, Kerravala added. "Not all cell phones work in all areas ... you could wind up with a user who couldn't use the phone when they are at home. That's not very practical," he said.

Catering to personal preferences and allowing for choice will result in happier, more productive employees, according to Kerravala. "Historically, companies have wanted to control the end point, but there's so much variability in mobile phones that trying to control that decision is really going to create that employee resentment," he said.

Yankee Group has written extensively on the concept of the consumerization of the enterprise, Kerravala pointed out. "Companies need to find a way to embrace this concept of consumerization and allow workers to have a wide variety of choices in the tools they want to use," he said.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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