The recent, highly-publicized, announcements of the Motorola Q smartphone and Samsung Q1 Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) are making a significant impact in the marketplace, not the least of which is the shared nomenclature. This commonality extends beyond names. In the enterprise, the letter "Q" stands for "questions," as in the questions that IT departments and corporate managers have yet to answer about how a growing number of user-purchased and provisioned devices will be supported in an increasingly heterogeneous corporate computing environment.
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It's all about support
After spending the better part of a week with mobility architects and IT managers at the Computerworld Mobile & Wireless World conference in Orlando last month, it became apparent that the prime issue for mobility in IT departments is support. Any IT program must be supported by a set of people, technologies and processes, and the operative principle of support is standardization of platforms, applications and networks. Basically, IT managers can only support the devices that they know, and if they don't know a device inside out, then they probably cannot fix it over the air or over the phone.
Mobility compounds the support issue by distributing devices as far from the office as possible, adding time and delay to the process of getting devices back online. Historically, IT management has addressed this challenge by reducing the number of platforms and device images. With a standardized hardware platform and a standard software "load," IT support teams gain expertise in common software issues, reducing user downtime and closing trouble tickets more quickly.
The retail back channel
Verizon Wireless is the U.S. launch partner for the Motorola Q, bringing the device into retail stores nationwide. In the same manner, Samsung has chosen electronics retailer BestBuy to distribute the Q1 UMPC. The choice of retail channels for these devices has reinforced the idea that power users will buy these "enterprise-class" devices, ultimately choosing to use them at work. This "back channel" for mobile devices creates nothing but headaches and concern for IT departments seeking to find a sustainable way to support the new devices in the enterprise.
The issue here is that users will purchase these smartphones and computers, thereby owning them and controlling the administration of software and services on these devices. As each user customizes his device with games, applications and ringtones, the device becomes bloated with a custom software load. From an IT support perspective, two Motorola Q smartphones running Windows Mobile, but with custom software loads, are effectively two different devices. This makes it virtually impossible for an IT department to support a team of mobile users customizing their devices.
The power user phenomenon
Better yet, imagine a world where the IT department grants all users "Power User" privileges in Windows XP. Power Users effectively have administrative rights, installing software and drivers on what is otherwise a locked down computer. In the world of desktop and laptop computers, this simply isn't done. IT managers restrict user privileges for two reasons. The first is that IT can limit the software that is installed on the computer. And the second follows closely: Effective support is possible because the computer has a standard hardware platform and a standard software load.
By endorsing a Windows Mobile smartphone or a UMPC running Windows XP as a supported computing device, corporate IT is effectively granting Power User privileges to anyone with the inclination, and budget, to walk into a Verizon Wireless or Best Buy store and purchase the latest Q device.
Wi-Fi: The sleeping giant
The Samsung Q1 has built-in Wi-Fi networking, allowing connectivity to a combination of home Wi-Fi, public hotspots and corporate wireless networks. The Motorola Q is built without an 802.11 radio, though many other Windows Mobile and Symbian smartphones do support Wi-Fi. In confronting non-standard, user-provisioned devices, corporate IT departments have long thought that they would simply stop incoming traffic at the firewall. It had been imagined that users on these devices would be coming in via the carrier 3G network and that it would be relatively easy to block incoming access at a few well-guarded points.
In corporate environments, Wi-Fi changes everything for smartphones and sub-notebook personal computers. Instead of stopping these devices at the firewall, IT departments have to contend with stopping these newly-purchased computers at any one of hundreds, if not thousands, of access points. The devil is in the details, and denying access to a Wi-Fi enabled UMPC may be easier said than done.
What to do?
When it comes to making recommendations about what to do when this new generation of mobile devices starts walking in the door, it's important to remember that there's no correct answer. Some companies will successfully keep these devices out, while other companies will embrace the diversity of applications and devices. Technologies exist for endpoint security, virtual private networks, antivirus and device management -- and the technologies are only as good as the policies used to employ them.
Here are three simple steps for managing the Q factor in your organization:
Create a policy. Whatever the policy is, articulate it and determine the extent to which new mobile devices will be allowed to connect and be supported by the IT department. As always, it's best to involve other departments -- especially line-of-business managers as well as human resources -- in the policy-development process.
Articulate the policy. Make certain that everyone understands the policy and what it means for the next time they see the newest smartphone or portable computer. Many companies will choose policies that allow some form of connectivity and usage, and it will be important to communicate to users exactly how far the support goes. The trade-off between support and control will be central, and users should understand that 24x7 support requires that they cede the device, at some level, to the IT department.
- Make it happen. Build the firewalls, open the doors, and identify the applications.
Every company will choose a different way to handle the influx of new devices. Some companies will be successful in keeping smartphones out. Other companies will be successful at integrating mobile devices into their computing environments.
The important thing to remember is that Q stands for "questions." Now is the time to start asking the hard questions about mobile devices, because tomorrow, someone will be walking in the door with the latest smartphone or UMPC asking for the IT department to "make it work."
Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.