Gartner urges IT to embrace devices but resist iPhone

Researchers warn iPhone is not enterprise ready

Gartner is known for its comprehensive market research, but Wednesday the firm produced two separate reports that could leave IT managers scratching their heads over whether to support Apple's iPhone.

On the one hand, two Gartner analysts issued a research note to their clients that clearly says the iPhone is "not yet an enterprise device" and urges businesses to "resist general requests from users to admit Apple's iPhone into their corporate environment."

On the other hand, Gartner issued a separate press release that advises in a headline, "Companies Must Embrace Consumer Technologies as Additional Opportunities to Innovate." The release quotes a third Gartner analyst, Jackie Fenn, about the value of "embracing and leveraging employee experimentation and experience with consumer technologies."

The two points of view may seem contradictory, but they have been a discussion point at Gartner and other analyst firms for several years and have been voiced over iPhone specifically by IT managers recently. For example, at media giant ABC last week, one IT manager said he was sure a few top ABC executives would demand iPhone connectivity to corporate e-mail to be able to experiment with the device and learn its value in communications, even though the official policy was not to support the iPhone.

The research note, co-authored by analyst Ken Dulaney, seems to recognize the plight faced by ABC and other companies with the title of its research note, "How to Plan for User Interest in the Apple iPhone." But it nonetheless urges that "general requests to support iPhone should not be fulfilled on the basis that the device cannot be fully secured and managed" to levels Gartner has described for smart phones.

"IT organizations should refuse to support the iPhone at this time," the research note continues. "If for political reasons this is not an option, then the iPhone should be placed under the concierge support level ... meaning that support will be granted as an exception, with the associated costs for support covered by a monthly billing to pay for the dedicated support staff uniquely trained for this device."

The note adds that the resulting total cost of ownership will be double the cost of a normally supported device, such as a Research In Motion BlackBerry or a Palm Treo.

But the note also urges IT staffers to familiarize themselves with the iPhone because "broad employee adoption" is expected to occur outside the workplace.

The research note lists several obstacles to adoption inside businesses: lack of support of iPhone from major mobile management and mobile security software programs; lack of support from major business e-mail systems; an operating system not licensed to alternative hardware suppliers, resulting in no backup hardware suppliers; feature deficiencies that increase support costs, such as no removeable battery; current availability from only one U.S. operator, AT&T; and a high price of US$500 when compared with other smart phones on the market.

In addition, the note adds that the iPhone is "unproven ... from a vendor that has never built an enterprise-class mobile device" and is seen by Apple as focused on the consumer audience, not the enterprise business.

The note further urges IT organizations to request mobile operators supporting the iPhone to remove the requirement that individuals obtain an iTunes account, because the agreement should be with the business and not the individual. Some IT managers have expressed concerns that multiple iTunes accounts could flood storage resources and pose questions about whether songs have been properly procured.

Dulaney acknowledged that the research note had undergone many drafts in recent days as Apple released more information on the device.

"Most of what Apple has for the enterprise is rudimentary," Dulaney said in an e-mail interview. "It is clear they have not focused on this and are only hoping to have enough [in the technology] so that some enterprises will permit their users to employ the device without being disturbed by IT. I am sure that third parties will fix some of these things, but most of what they hope to do is via rudimentary VPN technology and through Web browsing. There is a huge difference between what RIM does and what Apple will provide."

Despite Dulaney's cautionary words, the prevailing view by Gartner and many analysts seemed to be summarized by one of Fenn's comments in the Gartner press release: "The flood of consumer-led technologies into the enterprise is not going to subside," Fenn said. "To fully realize the benefits, IT must embrace these technologies as an ongoing strategy rather than on a case-by-case basis."

In a later e-mail, Dulaney took note of Fenn's comments and emphasized that he had urged IT to begin testing the technology.

"We have concluded that no IT organization can stop the invasion of consumer technologies," he said. "But IT gets hurt when they get caught off guard. So they should investigate it. Something as powerful as the iPhone will probably make its way into the enterprise. But for now, we recommend that only specialized support be given."

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