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How to manage smartphones on a business network

Toss the checklists and focus on the details

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Your users are buying smartphones on their own and using them on your networks. You know this already. But you probably haven't thought much about how they are choosing those phones, or about how much this matters.

Consumers faced with the plethora of new devices and platforms currently available are likely to base their choice on form, function, coolness factor and features related to their personal use. If they hope to receive corporate e-mail on the device, they might take note of whether it is compatible with Exchange. Here's the thing, though: It's not enough to determine whether a feature is present in a device; you have to take a close look at how well it's implemented.

For just about any smartphone you look at, whether the platform is the iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Android or Palm, you can find a checklist of features. But are your users sophisticated enough to look below these surface comparisons? That's what IT has to do, to understand the real differences between platforms and the distinctions among different devices within the same platform, and then to take a close look at the features that matter for business use and how well they're implemented.

My iPhone, BlackBerry, HD2 and Google Nexus One can all connect to a corporate Exchange server. But they differ in what they need to connect and provide different user experiences. For example, each of these devices is portrayed as being compatible with Exchange, but the Nexus One won't sync my calendar (even though other Android devices from other vendors will). That's a bit of a problem for the user who purchases a Nexus One from Google and wants to use it in the office. But it's a problem you won't recognise by looking at those features checklists. Marketers are increasingly going to market smartphones to end users directly, and they sure aren't going to be telling them things like this. That's why it's IT's job to provide the correct guidance to users.

Today's mobile devices are referred to as phones, but they are far more accurately described as tiny computers that users carry in their pockets. Unlike laptops, they are often not corporate assets, but instead are owned by the user. That means the main criteria used in the purchase decision will be the things that matter most to the user. But IT has to be ready to help with guidance that will direct those users to devices that, while still cool and meeting their personal needs, will also deliver on key business features such as manageability, security, encryption and the ability to work with corporate systems and data.

Find a way to communicate to users that it's not what a given vendor is doing but how they are implementing the features it's delivering. IT departments that miss the importance of the how will end up dealing with a lot of unsatisfied users whose smartphones don't work quite the way they expected.


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