IT managers doubt iPhone is ready for business

IT managers will not be making friends with fashion-conscious staff any time soon. A straw poll by Computer Weekly has shown that many...

IT managers will not be making friends with fashion-conscious staff any time soon. A straw poll by Computer Weekly has shown that many do not think Apple's iPhone is ready for business use.

IT chiefs at Domino's Pizza, John Lewis and the Salvation Army say that devices such as Blackberrys and Palms will remain de facto platforms for business use despite the efforts by Apple to make its iPhone more business friendly.

Many are concerned about being tied down to one mobile supplier. Mobile firm 02 currently has an exclusive deal with Apple in the UK, and its tariffs are expensive, IT chiefs say.

The iPhone's lack of compatibility with non-Microsoft e-mail programs such as Lotus Notes is a further barrier.

Apple launched its latest version of the iPhone in June with support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync - business software that allows mobile devices to access corporate information on servers running Exchange 2003.

Apple has also launched an iPhone software development kit to allow businesses to write their own applications to run on iPhones.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney says that Apple's use of Microsoft's ActiveSync would be a step forward in increasing the security of the IPhone for enterprise customers.

But some IT managers think these new features do not outweigh the drawbacks of being reliant a single mobile operator.

"If you do not mind being tied to one mobile operator as an individual, that is fine. For us in Domnio's corporate, we will not be going down that route," said Jane Kimberlin, IT director at Domino's Pizza.

"We do not like the fact that we would be tied down to one particular mobile supplier, they are quite expensive. We do not see a need for iPhones. Normal PDAs are all we need at this point."

Steve Parker, network architect at John Lewis, manages an estate of approximately 2,000 Blackberrys. He says the lack of support for IBM's e-mail server software, Lotus Notes, is a barrier to adopting the iPhone. The tariffs offered by 02 are also offputting, he says.

"We have been offered iPhones on consumer tariffs - this was a major inhibitor. Many operators regard the corporate sector as a convenient bucket of individual accounts where they can get a chunk of business. This model does not work for business."

Parker says that John Lewis might evaluate the iPhone again at some point, but not supporting Lotus Notes would be a major barrier.

Mobile firm O2 says it negotiates iPhone pricing for corporate customers - more than 200 employees - individually, depending on number of devices, usage etc.

IBM plans to launch a version of Lotus Notes to support the iPhone later this year. Although Apple says that 35% of Fortune 500 companies have started developing applications to run on the iPhone using its own software development kit.

But Parker says that although programmers at John Lewis may like to play with the latest Apple software development kit, the development kit for Blackberry had wider support with major software suppliers that made it more attractive than the iPhone.

Richard Dawson, IT services manager at Bracknell Borough Forest Council, manages a smaller estate of 80 Blackberrys. He says iPhones would need to offer better remote-management features before he would consider making the switch.

"The ability to remote manage devices - remote kill and diagnoise problems - is key for us. iPhones and softphones do not offer that level of management for us at the moment."

"Blackberry has been designed and targeted for the enterprise and more importantly for the IT manager in mind. For us, it is the way to go," says Martyn Croft, head of corporate systems at the Salvation Army.

Despite the views of IT managers, the iPhone could still find its way into business as staff increasingly bring their own mobile devices to work.

Kimberlin said that the "I have got this great device I use at home, why can I not use it in the office?" attitude is an issue IT managers may be forced to deal with in the future.

"I think one of the problems we have suffered has been the domestication of IT," Croft said.

He said home technology is becoming indistinguishable from business technology, which makes it difficult to train staff in how to use business technology more securely than they use consumer devices.

According to Ovum, IT departments face the challenge of potentially supporting four mobile operating system platforms in the future: Research in Motion's Blackberry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.0, the Nokia/Symbian platform and now iPhone 2.0.

IT directors will have to assess the security impact of putting the iPhone on the corporate network, if Apple is successful at making the iPhone an enterprise.

In spite of Apple's efforts to build security in to the iPhone, Tony Cripps, senior analyst at Ovum, said that businesses should be wary of iTunes, an integral part of the iPhone 3G device.

The iTunes music store is used by Apple to upgrade software on the iPhone, Cripps said.

"IT directors will need to get assurances from Apple that any security risk on iTunes cannot be passed onto the corporate network."

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