I've had the pleasure of chairing or co-chairing the Wireless track at Interop events for some time, and in that role, it's my job to recruit people to lead individual sessions, help them recruit speakers and generally make sure everything goes well before and during the event. It's a difficult, time-consuming job, but I always feel it's worth it if even just one person comes up to me during the event and tells me he enjoyed a single session. I've yet to be disappointed here.

This year, I got to run a session on Mobile Device Management, which dealt with the management of the many mobile devices used in workplaces today. These include cell phones, smart phones and notebooks. I'm always surprised that few organisations are managing mobile devices the way they manage mobile computers, and, of course, network infrastructure. Few have really thought about the risks inherent in not managing mobile devices effectively.

But just think about the functions required here. First, there's simple provisioning, or what services and applications are allowed and enabled on a given handset. This is followed by the challenge of keeping the configuration up to date with patches and new releases and making sure that the configuration is backed up, free from viruses and unauthorised applications (malicious or not), and that it can be fixed remotely should something go wrong. Backup, of course, also includes user data.

We'd like to be able to "zap" (erase or otherwise disable) the device if it's lost or stolen. We must make sure that any VPN and authentication/authorisation software required for remote access is properly configured and not tampered with. There's also asset tracking, license compliance, usage tracking, session persistence as users roam or otherwise experience gaps in coverage, and many other elements that must be addressed by mobile device management. And it stands to reason that as mobile devices become more complex - which is to say, more like computers - the challenge will only grow.

But also think about what is probably the greatest roadblock on the way to managing the mobile device: The fact that the organisation doesn't usually own the device to be managed. I would not let my employer put software on my personal phone - that's just not right. I'm responsible for the phone, and I'm paying for it.

So the solution has to be that handsets and other mobile devices managed by the employer need to be owned by the employer. I think that's exactly what the future holds, and a number of forces are pushing IT buyers in this direction. First, mobility will become the norm for many corporate users, who will need access to network voice and data resources no matter where they are. Desktop phones will be replaced by mobile phones; the economic and convenience factors here will become obvious if they're not already. Convergence capabilities further contribute to the mobile phone being the only phone we need, indoors, outdoors, and essentially everywhere. Smart phones are falling in price and are being built on more common and open platforms. So one handset, working across multiple networks, accessing corporate IT services, anytime, anywhere, and centrally provisioned, managed, and secured. That's where we're headed, and sooner than most people think.

The only thing we're missing is that the business handset has to function as a personal handset as well. Today, we take business calls on our personal phones, so the opposite is certainly possible. But there's a better solution, what I call the virtual cell phone. This is a handset with multiple phone numbers and personalities to match. Such a device doesn't exist yet, but I'll cover this mobile device idea and a few others on my wish list in an upcoming column.

Craig J. Mathias is a principal at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specialising in wireless networking and mobile computing. This article appeared in Computerworld.