A Chance to Say "Yes"

By John Jainschigg  |  Posted 2008-08-22 Print this article Print

Mobility now plays a key role in the enterprise—both as a commonplace technology that enables business to function on a day-to-day basis and as an emerging technology that produces new information and insight. So the IT organization’s involvement in wireless technologies and mobile applications is essential.

A Chance to Say “Yes”

Why is IT providing so much out-of-process and ad hoc support for mobility? Forrester and others point to mobility as an area where “technology populism” is becoming the rule: Millennial-generation employees are demanding that IT support mobility. But this shallow characterization ignores the fact that IT personnel have traditionally been early adopters of new “free-range” technology, and that executives have also tended to be early adopters of mobility.

However, it seems more accurate to note, as does Chris Hoff, chief security architect at Unisys in Blue Bell, Pa., that mobility has been a great opportunity “for IT to practice not saying ‘no.’” IT departments have standardized mobility tools where possible, but they’ve looked to tech-savvy workers and line-of-business innovators for clues to the ultimate direction of these technologies.

Chris Buri, CIO of Hitachi Consulting in Dallas, draws a typical picture. The firm supports more than 1,500 IT consultants across hundreds of global client engagements. They’ve evolved a disciplined PC culture, where grades of Lenovo ThinkPads are issued to employees based on several criteria of need (e.g., compact-size units for travelers, machines with higher dual-core processor speeds for developers, etc.). The laptops are secured by CompuTrace—a host-monitored system that records daily user/login status and allows CompuTrace techs to regain remote control of stolen PCs.

On the small mobile device side, though, Hitachi Consulting has gone with the flow. “We support BlackBerry via BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Windows Mobile, as well as other operating systems,” Buri says. “Employees purchase their own devices, and we subsidize part of their usage.” Only one technician is required to administer the PC and mobility programs.

“Where we’re expending effort,” Buri says, “is in exploring ways to ensure the security of proprietary data that migrates to mobile and portable systems. The solutions we’re working to implement touch the whole realm of small personal technologies.

“For example, we’re looking at solutions that detect USB-interfaced mass storage and are applying a consistent encryption and logging policy to files being copied to these devices. We have also looked at e-mail solutions that recognize proprietary documents and nonpublic information and encrypt them prior to transmission.”

At Unisys, IT and strategic managers have developed some innovative policies to engender a positive relationship between IT and employees seeking more control over the technology they use at work. “We work with the concept of a digital allowance,” Hoff explains. “A select type and number of users are given an allotment of funds to purchase their own equipment. They are given training, but they must buy and maintain the equipment.

“For the moment, we limit this program mostly to technical personnel who are working on contained technology projects that don’t touch central corporate data or applications. As time goes on, I can easily see this kind of collaborative model spreading, especially since so much data and so many applications are going into the cloud.”

These stances make sense, given the fast-changing nature of mobile technology, wherein applications and usability considerations, rather than features, are going to start governing platform choices.

Forrester’s Michele Pelino, lead analyst for enterprise wireless marketing, suggests that, once again, the impetus for improved enterprise apps will come from the example of the consumer market, where devices like the iPhone have made clear that the future of mobility is about touch-screens and Web surfing. This quarter has seen the introduction of mobile banking services from Bank of America and other financial institutions—in BOA’s case, including a downloadable ATM Locator app for the iPhone and iPod Touch—which clearly depend on an upgraded vision of mobile browsing.

For the moment, the iPhone dominates consumer consciousness and discussions of next-generation usability and application-focus—largely on the strength of the device’s excellent Web browser. In the enterprise, IT is feeling increasing pressure to support the iPhone, although serious questions linger over the device’s robustness and security.

But even some security chiefs are being won over by the iPhone’s usability and curb appeal. “I’m a 15-year information security professional,” says Unisys’ Hoff, “but I’m also a gadget-head. I feel the temptation to use things like the iPhone for business, and the accompanying pressure to figure out ways to fix the security issues in order to make that possible.”

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the pattern of mobile purchasing by business may be disrupted by the emergence of open mobile platforms and applications from the new Nokia/Symbian open source community, and Linux Mobile platforms running Google’s Android Java framework. These architectures will increase mobile device power and programmability and drive down costs for devices with arguably high-end features.

Frameworks, Eclipse plug-ins, software device emulators and other programming tools are free, opening the door to risk-free experimentation by developers. And these new application architectures are both powerful and easy to learn.


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