iPhone Wins Over the Tech Crowd

IT staffers at Special Devices swapped BlackBerrys for iPhones because new apps make their jobs easier. And with more enterprise features expected from iPhone OS 4.0 this summer, Apple's smartphone is in an even better position to drive deeper into the enterprise.

Tue, May 11, 2010

CIO — Special Devices' great iPhone adventure began at the most unlikely place: inside the IT department. Techies in the Windows and BlackBerry shop warmed to the game-changing Apple phone with its big touchscreen, single button and ever-growing number of smart apps.

"The iPhone went from a cool consumer device to an IT tool," says Shane Allen, information systems manager at Special Devices, a manufacturer of air-bag initiators for the automotive industry. "Once it crossed that barrier, I got rid of the BlackBerrys for my staff and gave them all iPhones."

Shane Allen of Special Devices

iPhones have only scratched the surface in most enterprises, where they're often brought in by C-level executives. Consequently, IT departments have reluctantly had to support iPhones even though management tools for these devices weren't enterprise ready, nor was the phone itself.

But now iPhones are poised to make a big enterprise push. For starters, iPhone OS 4.0 is expected to hit the streets this summer, bringing a host of enterprise features with it, including multi-tasking and better security and management. Perhaps more importantly, the iPhone has also been quietly winning the hearts and minds of IT folks, as it did at Special Devices.

Take that, Windows!

Headquartered in Mesa, Ariz., Special Devices makes 1.2 million airbag initiators (a kind of pencil eraser-sized firing pin) every week and ships them to customers around the world. A four-person IT staff supports some 500 employees using mostly Windows, VMware (VMW) and Cisco gear on the back end.

Special Devices had just gone through a rough patch, reorganizing under Chapter 11 last year. The stressed-out IT department has had to overhaul IT infrastructure, consolidate datacenters, embrace virtualization and draw down its staff from eight to four. "We're responsible for everything with a blinking light," Allen says.

It was also about a year ago when Allen decided to reward himself for all of his hard work and to build up what he calls his "phone cred" by splurging on the most hyped consumer tech gadget.

Allen's iPhone quickly grew beyond a toy for playing games and texting. The first sign that the iPhone could be used as an enterprise tool, Allen says, was the emergence of third-party apps with built-in VPN connectivity. "I could securely connect back to my network via VPN and could view some internal network management Web pages," Allen says.

(Last week, Allen and other CIOs visited Microsoft (MSFT) to learn about Windows Phone 7, and Allen asked Microsoft whether or not it will support third-party apps with built-in VPN. "They wouldn't answer that question," Allen says, adding, "I said, 'Guys, if it doesn't have that, why would I get it?'")

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