Consumerization of IT: iPhone skirmishing begins

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 19 June, 2007

Data center folks are conservative
I was on a panel a couple of months ago with analysts from big firms touting deep data center research. My point then, and now, was simply “Data center management can tell you what they plan, but they can’t forecast change. They are the last to know.”

Not a criticism, simply an observation.

Who is stronger, users or IT?
The folks who pay the bills, obviously. Which makes the corporate acceptance of the iPhone an interesting battle to watch.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article (subscription probably required – I can’t easily tell) titled Companies Hang Up on Apple’s iPhone. IT departments are not planning to support the iPhone’s IMAP mail protocol and users are fighting back.

The initial plans of many companies to snub the iPhone will likely come as a disappointment to many consumers who are eager to substitute the iPhone for the multiple devices they carry around for music, cellphone and both corporate and personal email services. These users may put pressure on business technology departments to support iPhones even if that means incurring additional expense and changing their policies.

High-tech and high-income professionals
The article notes that a New York law firm IT department is getting pressure from its lawyers to support the iPhone. With law school grads starting at $160,000 a year, the lawyers have a strong case for getting what they want.

At a software company, the IT manager says he is getting at least one call an hour about the iPhone and is worried about “rogue employees” attaching them to the company network. He should worry. WSJ reports that a developer at the same company:

says he plans to ditch his new BlackBerry for an iPhone as soon as he can get his hands on one and set it up on his own. “Other people might be intimidated but I don’t care.”

Corporate IT isn’t the only one facing pressure
Apple will get blowback as well:

Apple may face pressure from iPhone customers to make the devices more compatible with their corporate email systems, according to Ranjan Mishra, a director at consulting firm Oliver Wyman in Boston. “They [Apple] should focus on the white-collar traveler segment who would like a nice storage device and some music and a corporate cell.”

Will Apple license BlackBerry Connect software, as Palm and Nokia have? Why not?

Update: Alert readers Wes and David pointed me to this post today in Daring Fireball. John Gruber knows a lot more about the plumbing than I do and his post is a good read with a different perspective. The money quote from DF:

Self-important IT experts will continue to insist that the iPhone “must” or “needs to” support “integration with business software systems”, but in the meantime, their employees will be buying iPhones on their own. Make no mistake, when IT blowhards dismiss the iPhone because it doesn’t integrate with “business software systems”, what they mean is Exchange. Apple’s answer to the “enterprise problem” isn’t to kowtow to the Microsoft Exchange hegemony; it’s to point in the opposite direction, and show how much better things can be with open industry protocols like IMAP and CalDAV and with simple web-based solutions.

Like many successful revolutions, this one might come from the bottom.

The StorageMojo take
Apple clearly wants to be a consumer company. They recently disbanded their enterprise sales teams in Europe, and I’ve heard rumors that the Xserve RAID, Apple’s low-cost, massive storage product, may be headed for the scrap heap of history. Which would be a big relief to people selling disk for 5x the cost.

But Apple may not have a choice in the matter. Consumerization of IT is a long-term secular trend with inexorable economics. With the iPhone Apple faces the prospect of becoming a (hand held) platform supplier to the enterprise.

IT has no love for Apple, and Steve returns the favor. Yet both are at the mercy of consumers who don’t care about the details. Will the iPhone mark the beginning of a new relationship between IT and Apple?

If CEOs buy iPhones, you better believe it. And Steve will have to bend as well.

Comments welcome.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

David Magda June 19, 2007 at 3:54 pm

John Gruber has a good take on this:

Make no mistake, when IT blowhards dismiss the iPhone because it doesn’t integrate with “business software systems”, what they mean is Exchange. Apple’s answer to the “enterprise problem” isn’t to kowtow to the Microsoft Exchange hegemony; it’s to point in the opposite direction, and show how much better things can be with open industry protocols like IMAP and CalDAV and with simple web-based solutions.

Like many successful revolutions, this one might come from the bottom.

http://daringfireball.net/2007/06/exchange_exchange

In general he’s right: RIM’s servers are a proprietary system talking to a proprietary Microsoft system. This way lies madness.

I could never understand why IT departments (including the one I’m part of) disable use of IMAP for mail.

Wes Felter June 19, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I’ve seen people carrying Danger Hiptops in the enterprise, but T-Mobile hasn’t made any concessions to enterprise IT on that front. Maybe they want to upsell people to more profitable BlackBerries, though.

I don’t see why Apple would have to bend in this case; everything appears to be on their side: volume, open standards, RDF, etc.

Robin, you might want to check out Daring Fireball’s iPhone coverage on this topic today.

Dick June 19, 2007 at 10:14 pm

My biggest problem with that article is something Ive been saying for years. That the IT industry has to remember they work for these companies not the other way around. Their job is to support the technology the people who work for the company use. Not to dictate what technology should be used based on how lazy they are. They are using security as a reason not to work with the iPhone but its funny how they use this at their convenience. If security was really an issue for them they would not impose Windows on all their users. Linux, Unix and OSX are all much more secure and can easily handle any of the business critical software. IT has been the bully on the playground long enough. Its time for the owners and CEO’s of corporate america to stand up and let them know that they will not be pushed around anymore.

salim June 25, 2007 at 1:55 pm

Interesting what you heard about Apple Xserve RAID…. A couple of VARs I spoke with recently, who sell/integrate for media & entertainment, said Xserve RAID had a ton of momentum.

Robert Pearson June 25, 2007 at 8:38 pm

This came across a mailing list I am on. One Grassroots Opinion.

“I have managed Novell, Microsoft and Linux
networks..and now Mac OS X servers using (XServe,
XServe, XRaid, XSan, Apple Remote Desktop,
WebOjbects). Just want to say that Apple has a way
cool OS.”

The real penetration or in-roads problem I see for Apple is with Windows installations.
The Apple configuration is cheaper than Unix but more expensive than Linux and probably Windows. Especially since Microsoft has been giving all kinds of stuff away to get and keep business. Several shops I know who were 100% Windows desktop but about 50/50 Windows/Unix/Linux servers were looking hard at Linux. Microsoft stepped in and gave them everything they wanted. They are now almost 100% Windows everywhere.
This means none of the IT management and administration staff have any Unix/Linux skills left. Unless you can convince them the long-term benefits of an Apple solution far out-weigh the Windows one you are in trouble.
We all know Superior Technology does not win the day. =:-{)

Robin Harris July 1, 2007 at 4:16 pm

Dick,

I agree, but try telling IT that. Their focus is on minimizing their pain, not customer pleasure.

Salim,

I’m glad to hear that. I think the Xserve RAID is a pretty good stab at a massive storage infrastructure. I’ve heard that the Apple support people could use more training on it, FC and the cluster product, but I think they’ve done a lot right with a very limited budget.

Robert,

I think most people who’ve tried both like the Apple approach to building large scale infrastructures. Sure the software isn’t free, but it isn’t priced into the stratosphere either. Unlimited OS X Server for a grand is a deal among commercial server products.

The problem with the Microsoft approach is that they are undercutting their own value prop. Every time they do that, they plant the seed that maybe their software shouldn’t cost what it does. And the people who want more skills will leave that organization. Don’t know how widely they do it, but it is a classic good-for-the-quarter, bad-for-the-future strategy.

Robin

Damien July 20, 2007 at 8:29 am

What’s wrong with the iPhone’s IMAP support? Doesn’t it support IMAP-over-SSL? If not, then that is a major oversight, if it *does* support IMAP-over-SSL then IT departments need to get off their high-horses and start supporting ~10 year old email standards. Anyone care to clarify?

Terry an IT Director October 26, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Dick, and some others, are tending to make generalizations about IT based on, possibly, your own experiences. Any good IT manager realizes that his purpose is to support the business model. I must admit I have met some lazy staffers in IT as well as other departments, but there are also diligent IT staffers who take their jobs very seriously. One of those jobs is to maintain the security of data and insure the continuity and availability of mission critical applications. One of those, as our CEO is fond of reminding us, is the e-mail system. Our company installed Exchange for many reasons, not the least of which is its ubiquity in and compatibility with the rest of the business world. Sure, there are cheaper solutions like some open source software, and there are the new guys on the block with a good track records like Kerio. However, our company chose Exchange many years ago for various reasons including compatibility. Exchange has worked very well for us over the years and we have had few problems, especially with later versions. We are deeply entrenched with Exchange, relying on calendars and public folders for many mission critical applications. Switching now would be very expensive once re-training of users and finding alternatives for calendars, Outlook Web Access and public folders are factored in. In our world Exchange is the standard. It is not perfect, but no system is. Maintaining security of our mail system is a prime concern and our CEO agrees totally. He would be the first to worry about security lapses. Our company provides cell phones to those who need them for business purposes, but any employee is free to purchase an iPhone or Treo or any other phone they want. The company will pay a standard monthly charge with the employee covers the extra costs. We are currently working to implement iPhones with our Exchange system but we intend to do it securely and carefully. The bottom line for business is that e-mail is mission critical while sexy, pretty phones with music players and elegant interfaces are not. They are a luxury item. Apple designs them as elegant pieces of art and a glimpse at the future of user interactivity, but businesses can operate just as well with Treos. We will make iPhones work with our systems but not at the expense of maintaining the security of mission critical systems and applications. So Dick, and others who claim IT is a servant to the whim of the user, I say that regardless of what the user is paid, maintaining security is not laziness, and IT is not there to either stand in the way of valid business concerns or to make fancy expensive toys play well with enterprise systems at the expense of security and continuity. We are here to insure the availability of mission critical applications and to help educate users on the efficient use of IT resources. By the way, we are about 60% Windows and 40% Mac OS X. I value both and have worked hard for years to make the Macs operate just as well in our Windows environment as the PCs. The first computer I ever touched was an Apple II.

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