Smartphone users create chaos for CIOs

Everybody (including your CEO) wants an iPhone. But caving into technology envy could put your IT department in peril. Why (and where) some CIOs draw the line.

Believe it or not, when a CEO asks a CIO for an iPhone, the answer is more often than not, 'No."

Steven W. Agnoli, CIO at Pittsburgh-based law firm K&L Gates, said many senior lawyers have asked for Apple Inc.'s sexy iPhone, but the IT department always replies with a polite "no."

The decision is principally because of security concerns.

"Our lawyers and staff are receptive to the fact that we have certain standards in place and it's in the firm's best interest overall to follow them," Agnoli said. "When we explain the reasons behind our policies and why a certain piece of technology doesn't match, there really isn't a problem. Our approach to overall standardization assists in these specific areas as well. We only allow a few types of units. We don't allow anything under the sun. We can't support the world. A standard platform worldwide really helps."

But midmarket CIOs should get used to the question, which they are likely to hear more and more. Apple released the iPhone last June, and by the end of the fourth quarter it had already grabbed a 28% share of the U.S. market of smartphone users, according to U.K. research firm Canalys. Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry continues to dominate the market with a 41% share, while Palm has slipped to 9%.

The corporate market is a somewhat different story, with BlackBerry gobbling a 73% share, according to research firm ChangeWave, while iPhones account for only 5%. Yet corporate smartphone users report much greater satisfaction with iPhones (59%) than with BlackBerrys (47%).

The growing popularity of mobile devices designed for consumers, not corporate users, means more headaches for CIOs.

Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., noted that many consumer devices are developed without remote kill features or encryption, making them too risky for enterprise users.

"The iPhone is very attractive," Fiering said. "Executives want them and the CIO's job depends on keeping them happy. But there is a cost to the company for 'executive jewelry.' This is a problem CIOs are trying to figure out. Saying no often doesn't work."

Patrick Wise, vice president of advanced technology at trucking company Landstar Systems Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., knows the feeling.

"One of my biggest challenges is technology envy," Wise said. "Everyone wants the latest, greatest technology, but that's just not practicable every time a new toy comes out. You just can't drop $500 on a new BlackBerry every time one comes out. Keeping the users happy is hard. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me wanting an iPhone. It's not what we support. We give them the tools to support their job and environment."

Apple, meanwhile, is trying to make the device more appealing for corporate users. In March, for example, Apple announced several iPhone upgrades, such as a remote lock and erase capability and the ability to work directly with Micrsoft's Exchange software, as BlackBerrys already do.

Many CIOs, however, continue to have reservations. Agnoli, for one, said the IT department would still require quite a bit of due diligence before considering adoption.

"Apple's recent announcement regarding the iPhone may make it a more suitable platform for corporate users and it's certainly a step in the right direction for corporate use," Agnoli said. "But we'd want to review the overall capability of the platform from a network security perspective, understand the infrastructure necessary to support such devices firm-wide, and decide if we would want to bring under support an additional mobile device platform and all that entails. We would do all three steps before we'd bring any new mobile device platform into the firm."

One of my biggest challenges is technology envy.

Patrick Wise, vice president of advanced technology, Landstar Systems Inc.

Moreover, Wise said, the price is still prohibitive.

"The iPhone isn't a corporate product," Wise said. "We can't get corporate discounts."

At Landstar, IT supports several hundred corporate users. And there are strict standards and schedules for what the company will spend for phones and personal digital assistants and when they can be replaced or upgraded.

Although there is some wiggle room.

"We'll allow people to spend their own money on cell phones; it's a very emotional thing," Wise said.

But not the iPhone, which is available on only one wireless carrier, which offers no corporate calling plans.

What if the CEO personally asked Wise for one?

"He'd probably get one," Wise admitted, "but no one else would."

Michael Ybarra is a former senior writer at CIO Decisions magazine. Let us know what you think about this tip; email editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in April 2008

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