The number of smartphones and tablet devices on the market means that SMBs are under increasing pressure to open up to these devices. Personally, I consider their appearance at the workplace not to be a question of "if" but "when."
To be sure, I'm all for the use of smartphones in the office; however, there are a number of considerations that businesses might want to look into before rolling them out on the corporate network.
Endpoint into Your Network
One of the most sought-after capabilities of smartphones and tablets would surely be their ability to access e-mail while on the move. Indeed, the advanced protocols such as those used by the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync can even sync additional data such as contact and calendaring information over the air, also known as OTA.
What many SMBs do not realize, though, is that the depth of access granted to corporate smartphones effectively positions them as an endpoint inside your network, which makes them an attractive target to hackers. As such, measures similar to that employed on company laptops must also be used to protect these smartphones against theft or sheer carelessness.
On this front, I would consider the bare minimum level of protection to be the implementation of device-level encryption, the ability to remotely wipe the smartphone data and enforcement of device-level password controls.
Disparity in Supported Features is a Minefield
The willingness of Microsoft to license its Exchange ActiveSync protocol meant that many of the smartphone devices on the market support this protocol for push e-mail, synchronization of data and device management. However, it must be made clear that there are many versions of Exchange ActiveSync rolled out over the years, and each version supports a different set of capabilities.
To makes matter more complex, licensees are not obligated to implement everything within each version. As you can imagine, this has resulted in a disparity in supported features across the various smartphone platforms. This blurring of lines on what is supported or not can be problematic as important features such as device-level encryption and remote wipe capabilities are not always implemented across all the platforms that ostensibly tout support for Exchange ActiveSync.
Exacerbating the situation further, there are cases where the same smartphone platform silently discards support for certain features, depending on the hardware. For example, the iPhone 3 and earlier does not support device encryption, while the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 have no problem with it. This creates a potential minefield where compliance and security is concerned.
Ultimately, the decision to officially deploy smartphones should be one that is carefully considered. Sufficient resources must be put in place to ensure that users are adequately supported. With proper planning, though, the hidden traps that can escalate the costs of support can be mitigated or accounted for in advance.