NEW YORK -- Now that the once-breakneck pace of mobile device evolution has slowed, IT departments can catch up -- and they have a lot of work to do.
In the years following the iPhone's 2007 debut, it seemed every subsequent mobile device or operating system release boasted new features disruptive to traditional IT. Devices continue to get bigger, faster and more colorful, but groundbreaking innovations are fewer and further between.
"The rate of technological change is slowing," said Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, a mobile advisory firm in Ashland, Mass. "If you saw the latest iPhone announcement... there was nothing earth-shattering."
Ironically, this lull can actually make mobility more amenable to IT professionals and business executives, who don't have to worry about investing in technology that will be outdated in six months, Mathias said.
Mathias and other speakers at the Interop conference here this week explained what IT needs to do to embrace mobility in the future -- and what gaps technology vendors have to fill to help them get there.
Most organizations have at least started this journey already; 59% currently have a mobile strategy in place and 27% are working on one, according to survey data from The 451 Group presented at Interop. Several challenges remain, however:
Balancing security and usability: Mobile security is this year's top IT priority, according to The 451 Group, but it's hard to keep corporate data safe without infringing on the user experience. Secure containers aim to strike the right balance by keeping corporate apps and data protected and set apart from personal assets on the same device. This technology, available from companies such as BlackBerry and VMware, Inc., will grow in popularity as more organizations realize this benefit, Mathias said.
The catch is, containerized apps have to compete with their consumer counterparts, and if they aren't as good--or better -- IT will face backlash.
MSD Capital, a private investment firm in New York, chose not to go with Good Technology's secure containers, for example, because its email app could not keep up with the volume of messages its employees received, said Kurt Brungardt, the company's CIO.
"Our users wouldn't accept the non-native email client," he said. "That was kind of a deal breaker."
Unifying management: Every new technology for enabling and securing mobility seems to come with its own management console, and when you add traditional desktops to the mix, endpoint management can quickly become a burden.
"There is still plenty of work to be done," said Michael Miller, CIO of Ziff Brothers Investments, a New York-based private investment firm. "Why are they separate sets of tools? There is literally no product that does both that you would want to use."
Supplying connectivity: Members of a truly mobile workforce need to be able to access corporate data and systems from anywhere -- and that's not always possible. As mobility becomes more business-critical and more organizations adopt cloud computing, the demand for connectivity will only increase, and the problem will only grow worse, Mathias said.
"There's no way that a mobile device is ever going to be able to contain everything you need," he said.
It's not up to wireless carriers alone to address this issue; organizations will also have to ensure connectivity in their offices as employees become untethered from their desks, said Michael Davies, chairman of Endeavour Partners, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.
"Indoor coverage and capacity will become increasingly important," he said.
Spreading the word: Device manufacturers are doing their part to boost adoption in the enterprise with IT-friendly security features such as Samsung's SAFE and KNOX technologies and Apple's built-in mobile application management in iOS 7.
But vendors don't always advertise these technologies with the same fervor that they market flashier consumer-focused features, and that can hinder adoption, said Eric Klein, senior analyst at VDC Research, an analyst firm in Natick, Mass.
"The OEMs are doing a terrific job of hiding these enterprise features from users," he said.