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IT Gets Personal – Mobility and the Desktop

by guest blogger Jonathan Christensen. This is the second part of a two part series by Christensen.  The first part, titled IT Gets Personal — the Web is My IT, was published last week. 

My first cellular phone was a Motorola “brick.” It was a loaner from the company who paid something like $1,000 for it. I was allowed to use it for company calls, and the account was closely monitored by IT.

I got my first personal mobile phone in 1996. It was introduced by newcomer VoiceStream as a revolutionary new service called Personal Communications Services (PCS). The device was a new brand that I had never heard of – Nokia – and it almost fit in my pocket. In addition to having my own phone, VoiceStream gave me a SIM, so I could take my account from device to device. I never used another company-provided cell phone again and the IT department has had nothing to do with my choice of carriers or devices since.

In the new world of personal communications, the BlackBerry is sort of the exception when it comes to IT involvement. The Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) powers many of its most interesting features. BES is an IT-controlled asset. In Many shops, IT stocks and supplies the devices. More recently, Blackberry has been building devices with more consumer appeal (e.g., the Pearl and Curve). This is driving more users out to the retail shops to upgrade their devices. And while IT does not supply all the devices anymore, they still control the authentication and authorization policies through BES.

The iPhone has broken new ground. Email is a primary application for its growing user base, but it also does so much more (i.e., pictures, music and browsing). The iPhone is the first mass market computer for your pocket. For business users, the iPhone is a new kind of “must have” device. Part fashion, part utility, it bridges the gap between personal and business. As a competitor to the BlackBerry, it has done considerably well despite thumbing its nose at IT managers. It is also lacking those native Exchange features like calendar integration and over-the-air sync. But it is so cool. So many of us [momentarily] put down our BlackBerries and hacked together solutions for getting our corporate email on the iPhone (mostly without IT approval).

However, aside from the Blackberry/Exchange relationship, the IT department has had little to do with our mobile technology choices. My mobile is MY business, thank you. I use it primarily for work, but it is not an IT-approved device. Oh, by the way, thanks for picking up the airtime charges.

And speaking of airtime charges…

In the enterprise, roughly 80% of calls are internal. The main purpose of the PBX is to keep “internal” calls OFF the external toll network. But users are making more internal calls on their mobiles, and very few mobile phones are in any way integrated with the corporate PBX.

This is where the real big break up starts. As we shift to personal [communications] technology, the traditional corporate persona becomes less relevant. If you still carry corporate business cards, what phone number do you publish? For many of us, our “personal” mobile number becomes our preferred telephony “address.” The average number of phone numbers people want to manage is one. When we leave a job, we don’t automatically change our mobile number because it was somehow associated with the company. The address is our own, and it is portable.

At the same time, users are adopting desktop communications applications in the workplace. IM applications like Skype are integral parts of their professional communications tool kit. IM is used both as a replacement for calling and as a signalling network to increase call completion (e.g., “can I call you to discuss the ACME deal?” – “sure, call my mobile +1 (925) 555-5555”). And if Skype is being used for the IM session, it is very likely that the voice call will be from PC-to-PC (free natural sounding wideband audio).

There is more rich interaction in these sessions. People are sending links, copying and pasting text and sharing files in real time. Today’s knowledge worker roams seamlessly between Mobile calls, SMS, IM, Blackberry email and PC calling. Nearly 30 percent of Skype users are using it for business and 28 percent of Skype-to-Skype calls include video. The old desktop phone just can’t keep up.

The bottom line: Users are taking control of their communications channels. They are innovating, making personal mashups with the new tools, and they are creating a new namespace to go with it (e.g., Gmail address + Mobile phone number + Twitter ID + Skype ID). And all of this is happening outside the IT department’s “walled garden.” It’s good news for users and productivity, but what does this loss of control mean for the IT department and the organization? What does it mean for PBX vendors? And, if the users are happy, does it really matter?

image Jonathan Christensen has more than 15 years of experience shaping strategy for the growth of IP communications in start-ups and world class organizations such as Skype, Microsoft, and Time Warner.

In 2005, Jonathan co-founded Camino Networks where he was CEO until it was acquired by Skype. He is currently a senior member of the Skype team leading core technology development for audio and video, as well as initiatives for voice quality, network interconnect, and business adoption.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Noel Huelsenbeck May 12, 2008, 12:27 pm

    Well “loss of control” is not going to be tolerated by IT in most enterprises. I think the issue comes down to support and security. A lot is happening beyond the “walled garden” but most of the apps you mention are cutting, bleeding edge used by the technically savvy. When you’re dealing with the enterprise you have to make decisions that apply across the board so you can support the user base and provide security.

    Blackberry devices with BES works because it provides a secure, standardized user experience which allows for easier management. If I’m a CIO at an enterprise I may tolerate a few savvy users working outside of the “walled garden” but I can’t imagine the CIO allowing a “Bring your own Communications” type philosophy. As communications technology matures, and becomes more secure, it will be “supported” by IT and users will be given the tools. As you mention it worked that way with the PC, we may know the “shift is coming” but in my view enterprises can’t take the risk of being an early adopter.

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