Managing Smartphones Calls for New Realism and Flexibility

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The smartphone's impact on the enterprise can be seen in a small bank in Needham, Mass., where its full-time staff of 95 forms a mobility microcosm. Today, over one-quarter of them are using Apple iPhones and more recently iPad tablets, where once they used Microsoft Windows Mobile phones.

[Also read: How to best manage enterprise mobility]

"Apple met the minimum requirements to make [the iOS operating system] enterprise-friendly for me," says James Gordon, Needham Bank's vice president of IT. For the bank, that means support for Microsoft Enterprise ActiveSync to connect users with Exchange Server e-mail, calendars and contacts, and to support a range of basic management features as well as on-device encryption.

The mobile users can connect remotely and securely to their Windows desktop PCs via Array Networks' DesktopDirect application and appliance, often from inside the bank's headquarters or one of its five branches. One bank executive was using this connection to type Exchange e-mails with his iPad's onscreen keyboard while almost within arm's reach of his desktop keyboard, Gordon recalls. Citrix, with a similar approach, also offers an iOS version of its Connector.

"In the past we had Windows Mobile devices," Gordon says. "But I dumped them as soon as I could, and ate the early termination fees." Laptops, long the staple mobile computing platform for the enterprise, are a non-starter at the bank. "For as mobile as we are, very few people use laptops," Gordon says. "And when they do, they pray 'Please God let this work.'"

His comment highlights the dramatic changes occurring in enterprise mobility, confirmed by data from a new enterprise IT survey by Aberdeen Group (see chart). Companies are embracing smartphones with modern mobile operating systems like Apple iOS and Google Android, despite the fact both lack the traditional server-based support infrastructures of RIM's BlackBerry OS and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. Another change is that more companies now are willing to let employee-owned smartphones have at least some access to corporate networks and data.

Mobile management strategy

Managing smartphone mobility requires a new realism about what can and can't be done. Done badly, smartphone deployments can result in "increased security risk, growing usage costs and diminished information technology (IT) control," wrote Paul DeBeasi, a research director at Gartner, in a July report titled "Evaluation Criteria for Smartphone Mobile Device Management."

Today, he notes, mobile device management (MDM) is a bewildering collection of applications that often focus on very specific, very narrow issues, though many vendors are working toward products that take a comprehensive view of mobile management.

Many enterprises are aware of the relative immaturity of the new mobile platforms and deploy accordingly, says Jay Gordon, vice president of Enterprise Mobile, a Watertown, Mass., mobile integrator which is 70% owned by Microsoft. Nearly a dozen of its enterprise clients are deploying iOS devices, in numbers ranging from a few hundred to several thousand.

"They all plan on [initially] deploying iPhones in a fairly basic format," Gordon says, mainly for access to Exchange e-mail and PIM data. "They'll be expanding functionality and usability over time." In many cases, at least to start, these companies are relying on the combination of policies and capabilities in Exchange and Microsoft Enterprise ActiveSync for iOS management and security.

DeBeasi identifies five broad "evaluation categories" when considering MDM products:

* The level of control required over applications installed on the smartphone.
* Security features such as authentication mechanism (including password control and enforcement), encryption and remote data wipe.
* Defining and enforcing mobile policies for groups of mobile users.
* Support for the specific operating systems and devices being used, including OS updates, and removable media such as SD cards.
* Helpdesk and technical support capabilities to troubleshoot mobile problems.

These criteria are a way to identify the key differences not just in third-party products but also in the underlying mobile operating systems. The management capabilities offered in Apple iOS 4.2, in Android 2.2, and the initial release of Windows Phone 7 vary widely.

Different requirements mean IT groups may have to support different platforms with different capabilities for different groups of users.

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