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iPhones in the Corporation

In the geek world of any corporate environment, you have this constant struggle between trying to give what your staff desire versus the business needs of your organization. This struggle has become increasingly complex in the mobile device realm as Apple has developed some extremely attractive gizmos that nearly every consumer wants to have. Using the iPhone as an example, it is a compelling product for quickly and easily accessing business information while also being a fantastic vehicle for music, videos and games – er, I mean “apps”. So, why doesn’t every tech department dole out iPhone devices? There are a few struggles:

  1. The carrier is currently limited to AT&T and if your company has settled on another carrier then this can be a deal-breaker. Fortunately, it does appear that Verizon may pick up the iPhone in 2011.
  2. Politically, offering an iPhone could create an employee morale issue if a certain segment of your staff is being provided a device that could potentially be viewed as more of a toy than a business tool.
  3. Compared to the private secure network of the BlackBerry the iPhone could be considered a security risk. That said, unless your business has confidential information, this may be less of an issue.
  4. Apple had their original iPhone devices fibbing to Exchange servers saying it was securely storing data when it was not. Even worse, Apple did not warn anyone and issued a patch that stopped the older iPhone devices from working. Maybe this was a one-time learning lesson for Apple but many technical departments understandably stopped supporting the iPhone as a result.
  5. There is limited server-side abilities for controlling these devices and setting corporate policy. Apple is beginning to address these issues, but there is no question that the iPhone is a consumer and not business oriented device.
  6. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server allows for secure access to a corporate intranet and other network servers whereas the iPhone is limited to manually creating VPN connections that are complicated and ultimately a security risk.

Many companies have sworn off iPhone devices as a result of these complications, but that is probably not the ideal approach. Current and future employees will judge your firm and your I.T. department by how you can manage their wishes with the needs of the company. To the credit of Apple, they have made future versions of the iPhone and the OS for the devices more secure and with business customers in mind even though their focus is on consumers. Microsoft’s Exchange application allows for remote disconnection to the corporate server, so that is also a plus. You can also limit access to Citrix or Terminal Services to keep secure connections to your office on the device.

The carrier dependency issue is a tougher nut to crack, though even there simply thinking outside the box is a great start. For example, you could consider the concept of issuing a Verizon MiFi device and parking / forwarding a cell phone number to a Skype account on an iPod Touch. This is a fairly complicated way to offer connectivity and dependent on a multi-tasking iPod Touch to be released later in the year, but it is an option that breaks the carrier dependency and offers some other benefits.

No matter how you approach the problems we have found it valuable to share the struggles with staff and let them know the options you are considering that might someday result in a solution. Whatever the obstacles are to any idea, simply sharing that the technical crew understands the goal and are trying to find a solution that addresses both the business and personal needs is something that everyone can understand and appreciate.

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