RealTime IT News

HP's Mobile Mania Answer

We've got BlackBerrys, Treos, T-Mobile Sidekicks, other PDAs and now the Apple iPhone. Knowledge workers are increasingly putting their personal mobile devices to work in the enterprise leaving IT departments with numerous support and security issues.

"It's a huge problem for IT departments today because all these mobile devices are unmanaged," said Roger Kay, president of research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates. "IT will turn to any vendor that can help them in this area."

HP is making a major push to be that vendor with its new Mobile Device Management (MDM) service. While device vendors provide varying levels of support, it's not necessarily enough for large companies and global enterprises that need to ensure consistent and effective device manageability and security.

MDM is a suite of mobility services that comes with HP support staff to help enterprise IT departments deploy, support and manage their mobile enterprises. Areas of coverage include security, installation, startup, technical support, mobile infrastructure and maintenance, as well as the integration of mobile applications, devices and the network.

Another offering, HP Service Desk, provides a single point of contact for repair and support of devices, software and connectivity, which HP said includes around-the-clock, multi-vendor technical expertise worldwide.

Kay sees MDM as building on technology HP acquired with the purchase of device management company Bitfone late last year. HP already started tapping Bitfone's remote management technology> back in February when it announced its new line of iPaq smartphones would include it.

The Bitfone technology allows businesses to remotely manage and support the iPAQ's performance, security and application access. IT managers, for example, can delete data on lost devices, as well as configure and repair handsets.

Geraldine Rossiter, program director for HP's mobility and rich media services, said with MDM HP has expanded such remote or "over-the-air" management support to a wide range of mobile devices. The iPhone is not among those devices supported, but Rossiter said it could be once it proves to be more enterprise-ready with better security and connectivity to corporate e-mail.

"We noticed a key productivity killer was the time IT was spending trying to support all these different devices," Rossiter told InternetNews.com. She noted that even wirelessly enabled notebooks are often treated more like desktop computers, with IT staff having to visit or physically retrieve each one in need of repair or have it shipped back to the IT department.

"If you can provision and update over the air, whether via cell or 802.11 Wi-Fi, it's much easier," said Rossiter. "It reduces labor costs and improves productivity. We can also better secure the devices, encrypt the hard drive or certain folders with, say, customer information, in a notebook or PDA. And we can remotely lock down the device if it's lost or stolen."

Of course if IT departments could mandate which phones and mobile devices employees could use, the support challenge would be lessened considerably. But instead, the variety of devices is more likely to grow at most large companies.

"I think IT organizations are trying to come to grips with people's personal preferences," said Rossiter. "If I'm on the road for a week, I don't want to carry a separate cell phone to make my personal calls to the family or a separate notebook computer for personal use," she said.

But IT, much less support organizations like HP's, can't support what the company doesn't know about.

Currently, a lot of these devices are purchased by individuals or through individual departments and expensed outside the purview of IT. Rossiter thinks support and security concerns may start a new trend of getting IT more involved in these purchases. She suggests it's in a company's best interest to support the purchase or subsidy of mobile devices so they can maintain some measure of control over how they're used and supported.

Virtualization might emerge as a key enabler of a kind of hybrid ownership of mobile devices, portioning consumer and business applications.

"This way, users have the advantage of using these devices professionally, but not feeling like IT is looking over their shoulder when they need it for personal use," she said.

IT's involvement also stands to strengthen the security of mobile devices for users. "Security has traditionally been the domain of IT departments," said Rossiter. "But now you find families just as interested for the sake of protecting their children and identity theft."