One thing about the wireless industry that has always bothered me, at least a little bit, is its strong consumer orientation. Walk into any mobile phone shop, and try to find someone who can talk about business applications. If you want a cheap, basic handset or a cool-looking phone in mint green with a dynamite MP3 player, it's got that.
They do have some PDA-like units for business users, but no one in the store will be quite sure how they work.
The carriers do have dedicated sales forces for large enterprise customers, but for the rest of us, they rely on liberal return policies. For instance, I bought a BlackBerry at my local Verizon Wireless store in 2004 but returned it after discovering that the browser and essentially all of the BlackBerry's applications didn't compare favorably with products based on the Palm and Windows Mobile platforms. Not being a fan of push e-mail, an area where admittedly the BlackBerry shines, back it went. But I was still left with a less-than-satisfying experience and wondered why the carriers don't care more about business applications.
The simple answer is that they make a ton of money selling the above-mentioned cool, consumer-oriented phones with cameras and MP3 players. They also make a lot of money on (apparently) vital applications such as screen savers, wallpaper and ringtones. Since consumers spend billions on this nonsense every year, why bother helping some poor business type with a question about browser compatibility or remote access? It's a lot easier and more profitable for the carriers to let the businessperson try a product and return it for a refund if he can't figure it out on his own.
But even IT managers in large companies, who typically do have access to people at cellular companies with some understanding of enterprise-class products, are facing a big problem. You've probably heard the line about how the real assets of many companies walk out the door at night. Well, perhaps the biggest asset of a large company is information, and that's walking in and out of the door all the time.
Your information is on consumer devices!
That's because a lot of essential information, from company phone directories to the top-secret plans for exciting new products, is stored on consumer-class products purchased by individual employees from their cellular carriers. This should give IT managers at least some pause because potentially sensitive information is being accessed, stored and processed on a device IT has absolutely no control over. If your security policy doesn't reflect this reality, it is time for an update.
But it's also time for way more than policy changes. One prediction I'll offer for the New Year is that in 2007 we'll begin to see a much greater emphasis on mobile communications as a core enterprise tool and not something left to end users. We've already made some progress in mobile device management, with applications that provide assurance about the state of the mobile device such as virus status and software configuration. Some applications can even zap a mobile device that is reported lost or stolen. But none of this will work unless the device belongs to the company.
As a result, while company-issued handsets remain rare today, they increasingly will be acquired and managed by the enterprise. I even predict we'll see dual-personality phones. On the one side will be a number owned by the employer that will be centrally managed, right down to policy enforcement. You say you don't like entering a pin number to access your phone? Tough! The other side of the phone will have a personal number and personal dialing directory, but no cross-pollination between the two sides will be allowed. Corporate information and communications will belong to IT, as they should, and IT won't have to worry about enterprise information falling into the wrong hands.
Of course, other big changes in mobility are on the horizon for 2007. Unified wired/wireless LANs are on the rise, fixed-mobile and mobile-mobile convergence will make great progress, and the software-as-a-service/service-oriented architecture/Web services model of computing will see significant adoption in mobile systems. In fact, I expect that next year we'll see many more benefits from the constantly accelerating pace of innovation that defines this always-amazing industry.
I will have a lot more to discuss with you in 2007, but for now, I want to thank all of you for your many comments and letters during 2006 and wish everyone all the best for the holidays and the New Year.