Enterprise iPhone: Lessons Learned

What’s required to make the iPhone work for business users?

By Mathew Schwartz

Sure, the iPhone can play tunes, not to mention cell phone, but is it fit for the enterprise?

Many CIOs, at organizations including Kraft Foods and Oracle, have said yes. One result: Some have seen related mobile costs and management requirements decrease.

What’s required to make iPhones enterprise-ready? Prepare to get your hands dirty: Fitting the iPhone into the business can require new technological approaches to calendar synchronization, security, application distribution, virtual private networks (VPNs) and self-service support, plus some behind-the-scenes finessing. 

Which Mobile Device Rules?

iPhoneWhile the Apple’s iPhone isn’t the only smartphone game in town – BlackBerry is still the enterprise heavyweight – its popularity is mounting. A recent study by Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash., found that in the first half of 2009, 44 percent of organizations supported iPhones, compared to 20 percent in 2008.

One draw is that out of the box, the iPhone often works with Exchange. "Microsoft Exchange allows you to access any of your mailboxes by mobile device – it’s on by default," and many organizations just leave it that way, says Ahmed Datoo, vice president of marketing for Fremont, Calif.-based Zenprise, which makes mobile device management and troubleshooting software.

Early Lessons Learned 

But are iPhones fit for enterprise use? To find out, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research studied iPhone use in three organizations: Oracle, Kraft Foods (where almost half of all mobile users have an iPhone) and an unnamed pharmaceutical company.

Based on their experiences, Forrester offers four enterprise iPhone recommendations:

  • Don’t play mobile plan provider: Make users work directly with AT&T.
  • Set HR policies: Require users to abide by specific security policies, such as complex device PINs, using a VPN and digital certificates.
  • Self-provision: Let users download their own applications via Apple’s AppStore, except for specific business and security applications (such as Cisco WebEx or Salesforce Mobile), which should be circulated via e-mail or SMS links.
  • Self-service: Create communities (think wiki) for users to support each other, backed by the help desk.

Although all three organizations reported high levels of user satisfaction, there were some issues. Kraft, for example, found that transitioning its iPhone users from personal accounts to corporate accounts was a "high touch" proposition, and also encountered some Exchange 2003 calendar synchronization issues. Oracle saw no such problems, though its administrators would like better iPhone management tools (on par with BlackBerry Enterprise Server). Finally, the pharmaceutical company noted the iPhone’s battery life could be a problem, since employeses used their devices more like laptops or netbooks than just phones.

Battery Issues

Vik Dutta, IT Manager for BlissPR in New York – where one-quarter of all employees have an iPhone – echoes the battery life concern, in particular with ActiveSync, which synchronizes iPhone e-mail, calendar and contact data with a Microsoft Exchange server. Where the iPhone’s battery might last three or four days under normal use, with ActiveSync, it’s more likely to work for eight or nine hours, he says. No workarounds exist, though the new iPhone 3GS – with twice the battery life – should help.

Upgrading to iPhone 3.0 Software

The new iPhone 3.0 software – standard on the 3GS, and a free upgrade for older iPhones – adds many enterprise features including complex password enforcement, encrypted VPN log-ins, automatic device wipes after a set number of failed log-in attempts, new policy capabilities (such as disabling the camera), and CalDAV-based calendar support.

When Dutta upgraded his iPhones to the 3.0 software, he ran into only one related problem: Many settings reverted to defaults, leading to lost digital certificates and SSL communication problems with the Exchange 2003 server. He had to manually tweak affected devices to restore their network connectivity, but says it’s otherwise worked smoothly.

Do iPhones Cost Less?

Do iPhones cost less to run than other handsets? Some early adopters think so. Many of AT&T’s consumer plans T cost less than comparable business plans for other devices, like the BlackBerries. Also, companies can promote self-service, and require users to move from corporate-liable to personally liable plans, which saves businesses time and money.

Do this well, says Forrester, and you will have, "in effect, outsourced responsibility for the device, network, and plan to others, while retaining control over device policies and management."

The Handset Handoff

Expect these partial outsourcing possibilities to expand. Market researcher Ovum predicts other smartphone makers will soon emulate Apple’s managed device model, with the handset maker overseeing handsets and software, with cellular carriers providing network and plan support.

For IT administrators, then, the iPhone’s biggest enterprise legacy may be simply that, no matter which handset employees use, aside from setting and enforcing security policies, IT won’t have to deal with smartphones at all.

Mathew Schwartz write about business and technology from Pennsylvania.

2 Responses to “Enterprise iPhone: Lessons Learned”

  1. Jason Cullinan

    IBM’s partner, CommonTime has a MDM console that now supports the Iphone. The new version is called MSuite 5.8 and it supports not only windows mobile 5 and 6 devices but also the iphone and is compatible with AD or Lotus Domino authentication and mail. It is a very clever product that provides administrators the full control over the devices that are needed when working in an enterprise. Great product so far as we have had great success with WM devices! I must say the level of customer service that CommonTime offers should be a model for other vendors to follow. I have yet to find a company that comes close to the level of support and lengths that this company will go to to make sure its customers are happy. They offer customizations and scripting features that can’t cant be surpasses by any of its competitors along with a very stable platform to work with.