iPhone In The Enterprise: Seeing The Forest Through The Apple Trees

By  Jim Hemmer, President/CEO, Antenna Software — November 14, 2008

You're probably thinking this is just another article on the irony of Apple steamrolling into the world of business on the tiny back of its stylish, smart and powerful iPhone.  And yes, in some ways it is just that.  But really, this is about widening the scope a bit further and looking at the entire mobility landscape.

In this context, the iPhone is not the "be all, end all."  In fact, it is just the beginning of what will likely be a continuous wave of device innovation.  So the question is not only will enterprise I.T. departments sanction the iPhone as a corporate device, but how will they handle the other new devices and related technologies that will inevitably come to market?

Waxing Cautious on the iPhone
There have been numerous studies and opinions to date on iPhone enterprise adoption.  After initial skepticism of the first-generation iPhone, Gartner recently proclaimed that "iPhone 2.0 is ready for the enterprise, but with caveats" in its August 2008 report, "iPhone 2.0 is Ready for the Enterprise, but Caveats Apply," by Ken Dulaney. 

According to Dulaney, iPhone support should be limited to a narrow set of applications, such as voice, e-mail, personal information management (PIM) and browsing.  He also recommended assessing security and management needs before moving users to the iPhone and approaching migration slowly, with close examination of functionalities and ramifications.

To gauge whether the iPhone is "Hot or Not" in its own backyard, Antenna Software recently surveyed its own enterprise customers.  The online survey, completed by 100 respondents in September 2008, consisted of questions relating to both their personal usage of the iPhone and their view on iPhone usage within their company.  The respondents consisted of 52% from I.T. and 48% from lines of business.

The results showed that the uptake of the iPhone for personal use is somewhat muted, mainly due to cost and/or carrier constraints:  30% of respondents own or plan to get an iPhone, while more than half (52%) don't have one and are unsure if they will get one.  Even if we assume that a conservative 10% of the undecided get an iPhone within the next year, that's still a good adoption rate (40%) for a device and brand that's relatively new to the business market.

Inside the enterprise, the iPhone is clearly having an impact on IT strategy.  Of the respondents, 65% were responsible for supporting, managing and/or provisioning mobile solutions at their companies.  Of these, 13% said they were either currently supporting iPhone or had it on their roadmap, and 64% said they were currently researching and evaluating their support and strategy for the iPhone.  Interestingly, 23% have decided that they will not support it.

Furthermore, for those organizations not currently supporting the iPhone, the main barriers to adoption cited were carrier limitations (52%), cost (38%), security (35%) and device management (35%). 

Clearly, there are challenges to overcome before the device reaches the status of RIM's BlackBerry in the enterprise, but that is not stopping companies from taking it seriously.  Why?  For most organizations, the iPhone has already arrived -- boldly ushered in through the front door in the hands of employees.  In fact, Antenna's survey showed that 85% of respondents were concerned about "rogue" or unsanctioned devices in the workplace.

A Mobility Explosion
The iPhone frenzy is part of a larger phenomenon going on in mobility right now.  In addition to new high-performance devices, including the BlackBerry Bold, Apple iPhone and Google G1, there are other forces at work, namely faster networks and the increasing use of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) for ease-of-enterprise integration.  Plus, mobility has proven itself as a "value enabler," driving both top- and bottom-line benefits for the increasingly mobile workforce -- especially important in these uncertain economic times.

No discussion of mobility would be complete without going to the heart of the matter:  information.  Most organizations have spent a tremendous amount of money on enterprise systems (CRM, ERP, legacy, etc.) to collect and aggregate data, but are not delivering that valuable information in a timely manner to the people who need it most.  Information sources are no longer contained within the traditional boundaries of the enterprise, but are located in external systems too.  Just think of the vast amounts of useful Web content and collaborative tools, including IM and multi-media that you could use to create a killer mobile application.

Combining these trends with the expectations of ubiquitous accessibility from the "Twitter generation," and we've got perfect-storm conditions ready to rock I.T.'s world.  Previously, business units deployed mobile solutions in an ad hoc fashion.  I.T. now recognizes the critical need to centralize decision making and create a strategic, holistic view of mobility in alignment with overall business and I.T. objectives.

As part of this process, I.T. must consider a wide range of related issues and implications such as:  security, user and device management, regulatory compliance, I.T. resource management and total cost of ownership.  At the same time, it must provide an outstanding, rich and simple user experience to ensure high-user adoption and drive the business benefits.  IT managers faced with juggling the mobility requirements, user preferences, geography and budgets of different business units across the enterprise soon realize that when it comes to mobility solutions, one size clearly does not fit all.

Step Up to the Platform
So how does I.T. control the complexities of a mobility solution and support multiple devices with diverse capabilities and features?  How does it satisfy the different enterprise constituents, leverage internal and external data sources, control costs, lower risk and keep the business agile and profitable for the future?

Yankee Group's "Consumerization at Work:  The iPhone in the Enterprise is Inevitable," published by Nathan Dyer in July 2008, reports that "as mobility scales through the organization in the form of increased mobile workers and mobile applications, enterprises require a more strategic framework to unify disparate solutions and layer adequate corporate policy.  As a result, organizations demand extensibility of common mobile architectures, which will drive a consolidation of platforms."

A mobility platform allows organizations to embrace the inherent variability in the mobile environment.  Instead of one-to-one (one information source to one group of people), a platform lets you look at mobility as any-to-any (multiple information sources across multiple people and workgroups).  With a platform in place, you are not locked into a specific or proprietary technology.  Having a universal development platform for all mobile applications, across multiple device platforms (Windows Mobile, RIM Blackberry, Palm OS, Apple iPhone and future devices), and being able to write an application once and deploy it to any device, will be fundamental to mobile deployment.

I.T. departments can get bogged down considering the realm of hardware available with newer, as-yet-unknown devices coming onto the market offering immediate and significant incremental business value and/or cost-reduction opportunities.  With some employees becoming more dependent on their mobile devices than their desktops, the enterprise mobility strategy must include the flexibility to minimize disruption if the company needs to switch devices to accommodate mergers or acquisitions, change wireless carriers or add new user requirements or technologies.

The cost of supporting multiple device-specific applications versus a single application for multiple devices must also be considered.  If an enterprise opts for a mobility platform that already supports the majority of devices in the market, then this will inevitably reduce costs, while also shortening the time to roll out mobile applications to a new set of devices.  Therefore, enterprises should plan to have a multiple-device environment to enable the business to take advantage of the value of new devices as they come into the market. 

The iPhone has grabbed our attention and piqued our collective imagination, promising a new way to communicate and connect to the world and each other.  Eventually, it will become just another great device in a field of thousands.  iPhone or not, one thing is clear:  IT departments must consider a strategic mobility platform that allows for the development, deployment and management of mobile applications across multiple device operating systems.

With this approach, organizations can turn on a dime as needs change, empower employees with real-time information and produce greater efficiencies, higher value and growth across the business for years to come.

Jim Hemmer is President/CEO of Antenna Software.





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