by Ajay Mishra, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer, MobileIron

Five Trends Influencing the CIO Smartphone Agenda

Feb 02, 2010
MobileSmall and Medium BusinessSmartphones

Which is more important, the data or the device? MobileIron's Ajay Mishra tackles this and other key smartphone questions for CIOs now.

I’ve spent most of 2009 meeting with CIOs and their IT organizations to understand their concerns and challenges about managing and securing mobile phones. In my conversations with people across the country and across industries, it became clear that smartphones are now finally on the CIO agenda and, in fact, one of the most difficult topics:

• There are a variety of different platforms;

• Employees are bringing their own phones to work;

• Applications can compromise security; and

• The monthly costs are unpredictable.

What they told me again and again is that IT is losing control of smartphones and yet retaining all the accountability. This is what keeps them up at night.

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The good news is that companies are shifting their thinking. They’ve realized that what worked for laptops does not work for smartphones and that they need to develop very different management strategies. Here are the five trends CIOs across the country and across industries are considering as they develop an enterprise mobility plan.

1. The smartphone has become the platform-of-choice for the knowledge worker

It’s no longer a question of whether laptops or smartphones are the platform of choice for employees. Technology has advanced hugely in the last 18 months and employees are embracing a pocket-sized device that delivers voice and wireless email with a PC-class browser. Smartphones are the device that an employee never leaves at home, the default ‘go-to’ device. This creates a swath of new, powerful end-points for which the CIO has to manage risk and leverage innovation.

2. The CIO is now a virtual wireless operator

When a CIO has 50,000 employees using smartphones, whether they like it or not, they have become a mini service provider. This challenge is further complicated because smartphones are not uniform: there are multiple operating systems and multiple actual operators to be managed. To be effective, CIOs need the same types of tools and technology as a cellular operator. They want technology that lets them work at a network level not a device level and they want to get in front of potential problems by tracking usage and costs in real-time. Finally, like any service provider, they want to minimize helpdesk calls and proactively monitor quality.

3. Data is more important than the device

When it comes to phones a device can be replaced but the data is priceless. As a result CIOs are recognizing a need to shift their thinking from device management to data management. Think of it as the “MP3 school” of smartphone management. Employees use their phones like an MP3 player; they use them to access data that is stored somewhere independent of the device. Smartphones have become a broad-ranging gateway for data access, which underscores the need to secure them.

4. IT has been blind-sided by the App Store phenomenon

The iTunes App Store topped three billion downloads in January and that’s just for one mobile platform. CIOs know that this explosion of consumer apps has hit or will soon hit their enterprise phones. That has scary implications for security and support. At the same time, they see a silver lining. The app explosion can work in their favor if they can figure out how to leverage it to improve employee productivity. They want to be able to develop their own enterprise App Store with vetted and recommended apps whose delivery and usage can be tracked and managed.

5. Native e-mail has won

Whether it’s BES for BlackBerry or ActiveSync for other smartphones, the email battle is over. In the past, IT wrestled with standalone e-mail clients that were device specific, drained battery, and lagged new phone releases by six months because of certification cycles. Just last week, the mobility head of a F200 company told me they were getting out of the business of supporting third party e-mail clients because the native clients had equivalent functionality and far lower support costs. Interestingly, while the rest of enterprise mobility is becoming more and more complicated, the mobile email landscape has simplified dramatically.

In 2009, CIOs realized that they needed a strategy for dealing with smartphones. 2010 is the year they take action. Smartphones are here to stay as enterprise tools and IT organizations are getting more and more aware that the impending wave of security, cost, and management challenges will have to be dealt with head-on. Developing an enterprise-wide plan to turn smartphones from an IT headache into a rich asset is now part of the CIO agenda.

About the author: Ajay Mishra has been on the leading edge of mobile for the last 20 years. He was part of the engineering team at Motorola that designed the world’s first commercial GSM handset in 1990. Ajay later chaired the WLAN-Mobile Convergence (WMC) task force within the WiFi alliance, focused on launching new certifications for the industry. He has also co-founded two mobile enterprise companies — Airespace in 2002 and MobileIron in 2007.