Earlier this year I was working with a company that was in the throes of trying to put together a mobility strategy. In truth they already had a mobility strategy - employees had laptops with access to a VPN for when they were using public wifi. Blackberrys were the phone of choice, and OWA let employees gain access to email from non-company computers. Sounds like mobility was pretty well covered, no?
This would have been fine except for one little thing. Employees were asking questions about iPhones. Some had discovered that asking the right person in the networking team would reveal a little known publically accessible IMAP server that would let them get company email on their iPhone. When the IT department decided to enforce policy and shut this down, there was an uproar.
The more enterprising sales reps were starting to bring in their own iPads loaded with company demos and presentations to sales meetings. Others started following suit when they noted competitors doing the same. In a chat with a national sales director, he mentioned that with many customers, turning up with an iPad definitely made a positive impression, and he was keen to see an official solution put in place.
Since then I've seen this same story repeat itself at a couple of large companies, especially with the iPad. Whereas most of the functionality of the iPhone can be matched by a Blackberry (at least for business purposes), the iPad stands head and shoulders above the competition. Moreover, many employees have positive personal experience of using the iPad, so it's a natural extension to bring one in to work, much like a favoured pen or notepad.
The typical concerns around Apple technology in IT departments tends to centre around security risks. How do we manage access? Can we remotely wipe them if they are lost or if an employee is terminated? Can we restrict the types of applications that can be installed? RIM with their combination of BlackBerry enterprise server (BES) and the ubiquitous BlackBerry devices have long held sway over this market with ready answers to all of these questions. Now with the help of various partners, Apple seems to be attacking these concerns head on.
It's tough to see how RIM can compete effectively. Certainly the promise of flash on the BlackBerry Playbook isn't enough. In fact it rarely even comes up as a concern.
Enterprise software vendors also seem to know which way the wind is blowing, and many seem to be focussing on an Apple iOS first strategy, or even an iOS only strategy. Some are hedging their bets by sticking to cross platform HTML5 apps, and it's not yet clear how this will play out compared to native applications in the long term. Very few software companies are leading with a BlackBerry app first.
It's a testament to Apple's design excellence that they've managed to transform their consumers into enterprise salesmen. Nowadays for most CIOs, the question isn't really one of whether iOS devices should be allowed within the enterprise, but rather how best to deal with the inevitability of their arrival.
You might wonder where Android devices fit in to all of this. Perhaps the lack of a single clear competitor to the iPhone and iPad is the problem, but for whatever reason, the clamour seems to be for IOS devices rather than simply for non-RIM devices. It's possible that the demand for iOS devices might lead to a multi-platform enterprise rather than a future where we simply swap the RIM hegemony for an Apple one. BlackBerry devices will no doubt have many loyal adherents who will be loathe to give up their cherished keyboard, and thus a more inclusive mobility policy may be a likely solution, which would be to the benefit of Android manufacturers as well as Apple.