The Pros and Cons of Smartphones at Work

If your clients don't ask you about supporting employees' smartphones, bring up the subject--and be sure everyone knows the rewards and the risks. By Colleen Frye By Colleen Frye

Ted Schadler is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, covering real-time collaboration tools and the impact of emerging technologies on information workers. He spoke with ChannelPro-SMB recently about the pent-up demand for smartphone support at the workplace.

ChannelPro-SMB: A recent Forrester report found that among people who don't currently use a smartphone for work, the interest is extremely high to do so. Are businesses supporting or planning to support personal devices?

Schadler: It's a mixed bag. Smaller companies are much more likely to support employees using their own devices than big companies are. When it comes to personal mobile devices [smaller companies are more likely to say] sure, bring it in--we'll load email on it, and if you're willing to pay for it, so much the better.

ChannelPro-SMB: What's the upside to supporting personal devices?

Schadler: The primary benefit is the ability to work from anywhere. What that means practically is you're not waiting for someone to get back to their desk to get an answer to a question. We asked, "Why do you use a smartphone to run a work application instead of a computer?" For the employee, [the answers were]: "I can run the application from any location." That's number one. "My computer is at work but I can run the application away from the office." "I need to run the app while commuting to/from work." And "I spend time at customer sites where I can't use my computer for this application." Those are the top four--those are all big benefits.

And the thing about these smartphones is they don't require a lot of support because they're not very complicated. [For email,] you've got to turn on access to your inbox, which requires a little bit of knowledge, but not much.

ChannelPro-SMB: What's the downside of supporting personal devices?

Schadler: One very real concern is if somebody loses a device and a thief takes the SIM card out of it, regardless of whether it's a BlackBerry or an Android or iPhone, then I can't wipe the device remotely, so I need to rely on the device being secure, being encrypted, so they can't get at it unless they have the password. So security of the data, that's the biggest concern. And it's a very real issue whether you're running a BlackBerry or an iPhone. If enterprise IT thinks that information is secure, they're probably deluding themselves. The best advice we can give right now is don't put information on the device. Don't download an application or a database; do it through a browser. The less data on the device, the better. Don't think that because the device is secure that the information is secure.

ChannelPro-SMB: Is there an opportunity for the channel to support or leverage the popularity of these devices?

Schadler: Building applications for smartphones, either downloadable apps or browser apps, is a huge opportunity. As far as the network administration or hardware guys, there's some opportunity in selling and maintaining a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, for example, or configuring the ActiveSync link on the Exchange server. But in general I'd say it's about building applications around these devices or building rich Internet browser interfaces. And the technology to bet on, one is of course Flash; another is HTML5, which is the next version of HTML. Today that's mostly what you'll find in the iPhone, and you will see it from BlackBerry later in 2010. HTML5 might be a good skill for these folks to start building.

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