Peace in Our Smartphone Time

Wayne Rash

Of course you have a smartphone. Everyone has a smartphone. Your IT organization has already found by now that the standards set for smartphone support are honored more by the breach than by observance. It seems like nothing you do will convince your users to stick with a smartphone that you want your staff to support.

Sadly, the introduction of the iPhone was just the opening salvo in what has become a global smartphone war in which the mindshare goes to the latest, coolest, most innovative platform. First it was the BlackBerry, then the various iterations of Windows Mobile. Then we had (in rapid succession) Symbian, Unix in the form of the iPhone, a new version of the Palm OS in the Pre, Android, Linux and Maemo. Meanwhile, all of the other operating systems are being updated.

And that's just the start. According to a report by In-Stat, an analyst firm that studies these things, the battle also includes hardware that ranges from better cameras, GPS chips, music ability, touch screens and WiFi. It doesn't matter what you buy, or how new it is. Your smartphone is already obsolete.

It's enough to make a grown IT manager cry. Worse, you didn't sign up to be in this war. All you're trying to do is make sure your increasingly mobile workforce can get their e-mail and be able to work for customers. But how do you support this chaos?

The short answer is, you can't support everything. But that doesn't mean you can't be a corporate version of Switzerland. There is a neutral position in this war that allows you to provide support for those who need it, and provide access to most of your users. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Offer to provide specific smartphones to workers who need them, and outfit them with the access, push e-mail, applications and software you need. Pay for their use and support them through your IT department. You can even pick a couple of solid enterprise-quality smartphones so people have a choice, such as a Blackberry and a Windows Mobile phone.
  • Allow anyone in your company to access their e-mail using a smartphone if they can do it securely. If your company runs Outlook and Exchange, for example, then let them use their Exchange client or Outlook Web Access. Don't bother to offer standard Internet e-mail.
  • Refuse to pick up the costs of anything that's not provided by and supported by the company. This means that if they want to use their iPhone, they can, since it comes with a secure Exchange client, but they have to know that they get no support and the cost is theirs.
  • Don't allow access to any corporate data besides e-mail to any device that you don't provision yourself. Let's face it, if your users can get to your e-mail on the Web, you're not losing anything by also letting them use their smartphones. But other corporate information is a different story. You can't risk letting that out of the network.
  • Make it a point to stay on top of advances in smartphone technology. The best way to get users to cooperate is to offer them devices that are cool enough that they don't mind being seen with one. If they're forced to use a 10-year-old Blackberry, your users are going to greener smartphone pastures in a hurry.
  • Publish your policy and your e-mail access information, and let users of personal phones know where they can find others with something similar. Then they can support each other.

You'll never win the current phone wars. It's not even worth entering the battle, because winning isn't necessary. All you really need is a negotiated truce, and you can get that by helping the users get something they want as long as it's also something you want.


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Oct 29, 2009 9:10 PM Jamey C Jamey C  says:
Your article points out some excellent things to think about in the corporate world of wireless management. A couple of things that are overlooked with the emergence of PDA/Smartphones is that people forgot to treat them like a small computer in which they are. Most companies put strong policy's in place with regards to computers and access to the internet, they seem to forget that today's phones are just smaller computers. Now that there is a growing community of business applications that are being used by employees to access company information whether it be customer info, inventory systems or accounting, there must be a strong enforcement policy of what devices people can use within the work place and what the IT dept will or can support. It is impossible to as an IT dept to be experts in Iphones, Blackberry's, Windows Mobile and now Android devices. A company must make a decision on a few devices, who gets what and what they are permitted to do with those devices. They must also take a serious look at outsourcing perhaps a tier 1 or 2 help desk and some sort of management and or procurement assistance. Let's face it, with today's economy more and more workers are teleworking and using their mobile devices in many different ways, it only makes sense to find the professional support that are able to handle the users questions rather than tax your internal IT folks to answer questions on how to do this or that when it comes to your end users. I would also point out that there is a growing need for companies to have strict mobile policy in writing and be able to show what the company is doing to monitor what information flows over the employees device whether it be corporate owned or employee owned because if that employee is using his or her phone and happens to take pictures or sends texts that are in violation of current state or federal laws, the company better be able to prove that they have taken steps to prevent this or monitor what is going on when their employees are out using mobile devices in the course of work day. One example is that of the ESPN reporter who was video taped in her hotel room by an employee who happen to tape her using his cell phone that the company happened to be paying for, you can bet that her attorney will want to see what policy or software that the company was using to monitor or prevent just this type of behavior. Luckily there is software that can monitor all information that flows over any PDA, blackberry or java phone so the employer can now document the texts, pictures and email so as to protect itself. Reply

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