One of the big draws of Windows Phone 7, at least on paper, is its ability to connect with the Microsoft tools and apps such as such as Exchange, SharePoint and Office that are already ingrained at enterprises.
You'd think this would make WP7 the ultimate enterprise phone, but WP7 arrived late to the mobile party and now the enterprise landscape is changing again.
IT does not have the influence it once had to dictate what phones employees must use. Users are more in control now, and they are entering the office armed with an iPhone, BlackBerry or Droid phone and IT is configuring the phones so they are secure for the enterprise and can connect to corporate e-mail (mostly Outlook).
In short, in a world where user choice prevails, the new IT reality is this: No one enterprise smartphone is perfect. Will this work in Microsoft's favor? Some IT leaders say yes.
Users Change the Rules
Microsoft, well aware that mobile vendor lock-in in the enterprise is a thing of the past, allows its Exchange connection protocol, ActiveSync, to work with a variety of mobile devices such as the iPhone, Palm phones and newer Android phones.
IT departments are connecting employees' iPhones and Droid phones through Exchange ActiveSync and securing them using encryption technologies like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). For BlackBerry phones, companies use the ultra secure BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) to connect to the corporate network and Exchange.
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Such a democratic environment may give WP7 a chance against incumbents like the BlackBerry.
John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and Harvard Medical School, wrote recently in an e-mail response to CIO.com that his group now supports all phones -- as long as they use ActiveSync.
"We are vendor and operating system neutral," says Halamka. "We support all phones that support Exchange ActiveSync and meet our security standards."
Smartphone Brand Loyalty Runs Strong
Yet plenty of IT leaders echo what Stephen Laughlin, IT director for the non-profit Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, says about Windows Phone 7's debut next month: He has no immediate plans to invest.
The reason? Windows Phones are arriving late, and most of the Academy's staff are already committed to their BlackBerrys and iPhones, says IT director Stephen Laughlin.
"For those who just bought an iPhone 4, they are simply not looking to migrate," says Laughlin. "Those on Blackberries, mostly management, are happy with their devices."
A few staff members (among the group's 15,000 actors, directors, producers, technicians and executives) may look into Windows Phone 7, Laughlin adds, since they can stick with their provider if it is AT&T or T-Mobile, and have some choice of device.
"But I suspect those considering WP7 may wait until more devices are released," he says.
Despite more tolerant IT departments, Microsoft's Achille's heel in the mobile race will still be business users who are loyal to their BlackBerrys or iPhones, Laughlin says. He predicts that enterprises will support the most secure phones that employees like most: Today, that's usually a BlackBerry.
"Most office workers are familiar with BlackBerrys, and IT managers appreciate the security that Blackberry offers," he says.
Why WP7 Still Has a Chance
On the other hand, Laughlin doesn't find the iPhone or Blackberry perfect, so he hasn't ruled out WP7.
One advantage with WP7, says Laughlin: It will be available on a variety of devices and two carriers, with more carriers promised in 2011. "With the iPhone, you are stuck with one device and one carrier," he says.
Also, each WP7 phone will run the same version of the OS and follow a strict set of hardware requirements, as opposed to the fragmented approach of Droid phones.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]
Another potential pitfall for iPhones and Android is corporate security, says Laughlin.
"Some IT departments require the ability to remotely erase a smartphone device, which can't be done on the iPhone or Android without a third-party or additional add-on. This could be an issue."
WP7's easier integration with Exchange and Outlook will also keep Laughlin from ruling it out. He says it would behoove WP7 to organize incoming e-mails better than BlackBerry. "Blackberry commingles all incoming messages into one inbox and many users don't like that," he says.
So while the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has no current plans for WP7, Laughlin remains open-minded about Microsoft's mobile platform.
"WP7 does offer more flexibility and variety and the screen looks great," says Laughlin. "I'm still interested in seeing the device more in person."
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story, "Windows Phone 7's Gamble: No Phone Is Perfect" was originally published by CIO.