What do digital cameras, cell phones, flat-screen TVs, transistor radios, mobile devices, high-priced lawyers, and the International Space Station have in common? The nouns are all modified with what has become a superfluous adjective. In the cases of cell phones and mobile devices, the adjectives are not only unnecessary; they are close to becoming harmful to the discussion. I say that because we are codifying technology in an attempt to either appear cool “our such and such solution is mobile”, to appear compliant “we need a mobile access policy” or to appear threatened “we can’t support mobile access on our current budget” but no longer to designate a kind of thing.
I will focus this discussion on mobile devices, i.e. the “smart” part of a smart phone and tablets, because I think we can all agree that it is completely irrelevant to consider a mobile phone as anything other than a phone. When I listen to the chatter surrounding mobile devices, I hear people talking about security, access, platform support, and cost. I like to work with three things, and since access is often a sub or super set of security, I’m going to treat them as one issue.
Security – I don’t want to suggest that mobile security is unimportant, but I would suggest that it’s no more or less important than every other kind of security. From what I can gather from the conversations I’ve had with my peers, security is only an issue now because we never treated it seriously before. If that’s the case, then the sense of urgency around security is not related to the mobile device being mobile, it’s related to it suddenly being our concern. I’m not going to beat anybody up over this; we didn’t start focusing on filtering or securing web browsing and email until they became threat vectors on one hand and we attached them to vital business processes on the other. This crossing of the forces of good and evil is no different in the case of mobile devices, it is simply happening faster. If anything, this is due to, as John Mancini frequently points out, our being on the second half of the chessboard.
Platform Support – iOS, Android, RIM, Microsoft, P, (I almost said Palm), all different, all in states of flux, all with appeal to some people, so which do we support? I don’t have a definitive answer for this question, but I know what I am not going to do. I am not going to pick one and demand that everyone in our company use that device. Right now, we officially support iOS and Microsoft devices. We have accommodated a Blackberry that one of our users had. We do not support Android, because we are somewhat scared of the Wild West model for app deployment. We have far more iOS devices, and for now, we are only developing apps for that platform, and when necessary, we will modify or create a SharePoint view to look nicer on an iPad. Windows 8 would make that easier, but I don’t see us moving to requiring Windows 8 tablets.
Cost– Ultimately, it’s always all about cost. Security isn’t a problem as long as we can afford it. Supporting multiple platforms isn’t problem as long as we can afford it. Here again, I don’t have an answer, but I have some thoughts. First, I’d give up trying to determine a ROI on mobile devices; consider the cost of not having them. As Steve Weissman points out, consider the carrier agreements too. When I see things like hints that AT&T might add a surcharge for FaceTime over 3G, I am reminded of the need to be clear in your description of what services you will support. We currently run a hybrid BYOD model. If you use a Windows phone, we pay for it. If you use an iPhone, we reimburse a portion of the cost. Regardless of choice, we don’t pay for texting or tethering at this time.
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