Navigating The World Of Wireless Email

By  Susan Nunziata — April 30, 2009

The Barbarians are at the gates! At least, that's what it feels like to many IT departments as they face a barrage of demands for wireless access to corporate email.

Mobile messaging is still primarily the privilege of the upper corporate echelon and the most mobile of workers, such as field techs or sales teams. Even serving these sanctioned users is not without its IT challenges.

A far bigger issue facing enterprises is that employees at all levels are clamoring for mobile access to corporate email, sometimes well before an organization is ready to give it to them. These workers wield all manner of devices with a plethora of mobile operating systems, including BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, and, increasingly, Apple iPhone and Google Android.

"If not supported by the IT organization, then individuals find ways to access work email on personal devices," says Monica Basso, VP at Boston, MA-based Gartner Research. This back-door into the company email raises a host of business policy and IT architecture issues for enterprises, says Eugene Signorini, VP Enterprise Solutions & Mobile Applications with Boston, MA-based research firm Yankee Group.

According to Gartner's Basso, by 2010, more than 40% of the workforce will access corporate mail on personal or corporate devices;  at least 20% of corporate email accounts will have wireless access enabled. There are 30 million -- 50 million wireless email users worldwide, says Basso. 

Research In Motion, Microsoft, and Sybase iAnywhere are in the leader's quadrant of Gartner's latest Enterprise Wireless Email Software Market Magic Quadrant. Good Mobile Messaging lands in the visionary quadrant. Click here to view the complete chart.

The core question now, says Signorini, is "how do companies get beyond the first phase of mobile email deployments to really scaling it across the enterprise?"

Security and management are big factors in enterprise scalability of mobile messaging. BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) enables security and management behind the firewall, and Microsoft has expanded its behind-the-firewall management options with the recent introduction of the Systems Center Mobile Device Manager, explains Signorini.

For some organizations, an added layer of management is necessary. For example, mobile messaging has evolved over the past four years to be a critical part of operations for Varian Medical Systems, a Palo Alto, CA-based maker of medical devices and software for treating cancer. (Click here to read the full case study.)

In mid-2005, the company deployed a unified Microsoft Exchange platform for email and added the BlackBerry Enterprise Server for mobile messaging. BlackBerry devices were first provided to about 50 executives and IT staff. "It has grown exponentially over the last several years into a full-blown enterprise product that we now have as a critical part of Varian's support and service business," says Matthew Morse, Senior IT Administrator at Varian.

Now, the company has about 1,600 BlackBerry devices. Users include the field technicians responsible for rapid response to any issues that arise with the company's equipment. As the scope of Varian's mobile deployment grew, Morse says his team faced several challenges: "How are we going to guarantee our systems are really working? We want to reduce helpdesk calls. We want to reduce the risk that a handheld could be out of range," and a field technician wasn't receiving a service ticket.

In August 2008, the company deployed a mobile device management solution from Zenprise. Morse says the solution has resulted in a 70% reduction in calls into the IT helpdesk from the BlackBerry users. Turnaround time to resolve issues has been reduced from an average of 20 minutes per caller to less than 10 minutes.

IT administrators use the tool to constantly monitor the health of the networks and devices, so they can proactively address problems. Morse and his team are working out which of its worldwide admin support staff get what kind of notification messages to keep things running 24/7.

"We're international,  so [we're looking at] how we can best roll our support problems over to the next helpdesk time zone when one goes to sleep. With a product like Zenprise and BlackBerry's enterprise console and of course Microsoft Operations Manager, we're now able to have a unified dashboard that all representatives are able to log into through the Web, take a quick look, see what the problem is and save a phone call," says Morse. "You save lots of dollars and time and everyone gets happy."

Varian's BlackBerrys and wireless service contracts are procured and managed by regional offices, but the entire messaging and BlackBerry infrastructure is centralized out of the company's North American headquarters.

For organizations such as the San Francisco, CA-based Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction, managing a staff of 400 employees, most of whom need some form of mobile messaging, was a major challenge. Email is standardized on Microsoft Outlook and Exchange 2007, but employees use all sorts of mobile devices, including Palm Treos and pocket PCs, via both the AT&T and Verizon networks. 

"I had a fulltime administrator just to deal with cellphones, ordering them, setting them up," says Jeremy Wemby, IT Director. "I'm ordering PDAs and cellphones and accessories daily. Vendors keep changing the technology, the chargers, the devices. It's managing this constant turnaround of equipment that would be our No. 1 pain point."

Five years ago, the company deployed Good Mobile Messaging (which was acquired by Visto from Motorola in February 2009) to help manage its diverse array of devices.

The solution puts device setup and synchronization into the hands of employees. "Employees  go to the Good Web link, click on their device, put in their ID number to install software and it starts synching." Diagnostics include uptime reports and connectivity reports. "We know whether [a device] has been up and running for the past 24 hours or if it's been down for any period of time," says Wemby.

Reston, VA-based Global Learning Semesters (GLS), a study-abroad program for U.S.-based college students, completely outsourced its email -- including mobile messaging -- to USA.Net. GLS's 20-25 employees are scattered over 12 locations worldwide. "It's an environment that makes IT support problematic," says GLS President Atonis Polemitis. (Click here to read the full case study.)

Some devices are procured by the company, and these are mostly BlackBerrys, while a handful of staff purchase their own devices. The international staff require a range of regional carrier relationships. "The pain point around different platforms is pushed back to USA.Net," says Polemitis.

There is a business case to be made for expanding wireless access to email across  an enterprise.

"Knowledge workers receive hundreds of emails every day and on average one-tenth of them need immediate action," says Gartner's Basso. "The speed of replies has a direct impact on an organization's success."

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