Mobile devices incorporate Web 2.0 applications to the point where "we have to sit here now and answer the 'why not' rather than the 'why' decision of allowing apps on the network," said Timothy Jasionowski, Senior Technologist for Voice and Rich Media at Nokia. A group of panelists spoke at the Mobile Business Expo event at Interop in New York City to discuss the reasons to allow Web 2.0 apps on mobile devices and why they should remain there.
The question is why corporate businessmen and women need to use Web 2.0 applications on enterprise handhelds like BlackBerrys. David Heit, director of product management of enterprise software at Research in Motion (RIM), pointed to applications like Facebook for BlackBerrys as evidence that Facebook could be used as a business tool -- much like business-oriented, social networking site LinkedIn. Because companies found their employees using Facebook at work and for work, RIM launched a version of Facebook customized for BlackBerry devices.
Not long ago, this would have been considered taboo. Joshua Holbrook, enterprise researcher at Yankee Group, found that rogue employees were the people using these kinds of applications in the beginning. Jasionowski remembers that when Skype came out, policies stated: "Any user caught with Skype would have to deal with the consequences." Two years later, Jasionowski sees that these applications are not only permissive but are being incorporated into enterprise devices.
The reason we're seeing enterprises allow 2.0 applications on mobile devices is that they need the advanced technology to advance their businesses. In real estate, for example, Jasionowski noted that workers needed cameras on their devices to capture pictures of property they marketed -- so cameras started appearing on business phones. Assessors of car accident damage had the same business case for incorporating cameras into their phones.
If ROI is of any concern, business costs are cut, and these devices ease management complications. Sanjay Shirole, president and CEO of Xora Inc., says: "You have the ability to use the application without having to do any on-premise installation [and] without having to manage pictures people are taking. You end up leaving management in the hands of the end users."
Facebook and cameras aren't the only surprising Web 2.0 apps used integrally with enterprises. For example, Shirole never expected that businesses would need services like location technologies. But as he saw, GPS is not just an app used by the public -- "it's used by SMBs all the way to the largest logistics or beverage companies." Heit added that the trucking industry, for instance, uses GPS integrally with mobile device messaging capabilities.
Not only could truckers use the device for GPS, but their managers could track the devices back to the server to see where their drivers were. This tracking feature brought up issues of user rights, however. On the one hand, Heit said, the feature could be a life-saver in the event someone were lost or missing; on the other, it could overstep the boundaries of privacy. Shirole mentioned that as long as there's a conversation with the employees about how it can be used as a helpful device -- "rather than a Big Brother device" -- privacy would not become an issue.
"The issue is that right now there are no policies out there to handle [apps on mobile devices]," Holbrook says. "We'll be mashing up corporate data with personal, so the question is how we will keep these things separate. The first step toward this separation will be to secure our phones."
Along with nonexistent policies, security standards are lacking. Heit says security is really an issue of control. You need to "control your security through terms of policy" -- meaning that as long as your users know what's safe and appropriate, you'll be able to protect your network. He says that "the key is having the end-user choice." Talk to your users, and educate them so that their device is useful rather than cumbersome. And this is the bottom line, Heit says: "The end-user experience is what really matters. If you have the applications that you need on a certain device, that's what counts."