Corporations have legitimate concerns about the latest class of products to connect to the corporate network. Employees are finding more ingenious ways to use devices such as smartphones and PDAs to stay connected, access important data and communicate more effectively. This data access is expensive and typically happening outside the IT security perimeter.
I argue, however, that corporations trying to place excessive control over these devices and the applications that run on them will miss out on significant productivity increases that will accrue to the bottom line.
To gain some perspective, it is helpful to look at an analogous technology: Internet browsers. In the early 1990s, Internet browsers were just gaining widespread adoption. The company where I worked was very concerned about loss of employee productivity and enacted rules to limit employee Web use.
On the contrary, what occurred was one of the greatest productivity increases in corporate history. Salespeople could print out maps and find directions to customer sites on MapQuest, marketing people could do research on potential competitors using Google, human resources departments could find potential employees on LinkedIn, and manufacturing employees could buy and sell used oscilloscopes on eBay.
The point is that corporations aren't very good at predicting what benefits will come from new technology, but people will gravitate toward things that help them do their job more effectively.
Smartphones: threat or opportunity?
Smart phones and PDAs pose a similar challenge. On the one hand, they represent expensive, unmanaged devices accessing the corporate network, posing unanticipated security threats. On the other hand, just like the browser, they could generate the next big wave of productivity. I believe the latter - and just as we learned from the browser experience - I believe the best approach is to leave it to employees to figure out.
People are ingenious about their own productivity. They will find the best devices and applications, use them in unanticipated ways and spread the word. Of course, there will be the occasional time-waster along the way - think ring tones - but I'll argue that even downloading a ring tone teaches people how to use the technology and will equip them to download things that will make them more productive.
Diversity is security?
As for security, the more diverse the device set, the more operating systems involved, and the more differentiated the applications, the harder it will be for viruses to spread and networks to be hacked. The money you spend and the experimentation you allow will affect your company in ways you can't anticipate. Trust your people to innovate and let them experiment. In the end, they'll figure it out for you.
McQuilken is an investment manager at Intel Capital, responsible for investments in early-stage technology companies in the Boston area. McQuilken is co-founder and former CEO of the mobile entertainment company, Groove Mobile (formerly Chaoticom). This article appeared in Network World