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Mobile Devices Are Ready To Take Their Place Alongside PCs In Businesses

Eighty-five percent of companies will provide more access to applications via mobile devices next year, and three out of four will increase spending on devices such as smartphones and other handhelds.
Not So Broadband

NOT SO BROADBAND
Another problem is the relatively narrow pipes of wireless broadband, the fourth biggest obstacle to mobile access to enterprise apps, according to our survey. That means businesses must develop applications that can work everywhere, not just under optimal conditions. In some ways, it's a throwback to Web design for the dial-up days.

In The WayAsset management firm Fairfield Greenwich Group is piloting a mobile Web application that gives its salespeople access to its CRM system using Palm Treos and other devices. But the company knew employees would be working in places around the world that lack high-speed cellular networks. That forced developers to keep the app simple, limiting it to key features such as information look-up, notes entering, and activity scheduling, and dropping some features in the desktop version. "You can build a gorgeous application with graphics and all, but it'll take two to three minutes to flip the page," says Jason Elizaitis, director of IT.

Brookfield Homes has been waiting eight years to go wireless, and VP of IT Eric Simon now considers network speeds and coverage good enough. The home builder spends 10% of its IT budget on mobile application development and plans to up its spending by 30% next year, Simon says. Brookfield develops all of its applications in-house using Microsoft .Net. One new application, now in beta, used by field personnel to mark the status of homes under construction, was created using Microsoft Office Project Server and the DotNetNuke open source framework for business Web applications.

BETTER APPS
Oracle, Salesforce.com, SAP, Sybase, and other vendors offer mobile versions of their applications, though they typically don't include all the functionality of the desktop versions. The vendors say they're starting to help customers create and deploy business apps to run on multiple mobile devices, instead of customized apps for specific brands and operating systems.

Salesforce in April acquired Sendia, which has a set of developer tools and an app server designed to cut the work involved in giving mobile access to enterprise apps. By integrating that to work with AppExchange, Salesforce's platform to offer other vendors' apps as a service, the company is pitching AppExchange Mobile, which lets businesses wirelessly access Salesforce and AppExchange apps from various devices for $50 a month.

Sybase recently launched the Information Anywhere Suite, designed to let companies synchronize information between mobile devices and enterprise software from BMC, Business Objects, Lotus, SAP, and others.

WHAT ABOUT SECURITY?
About half of survey respondents say their mobile devices are password protected and don't allow enterprise data to be stored on them, and 40% use a mobile VPN to protect data in transit. One in four respondents uses tools that lock devices or erase data if devices are lost or stolen; one in five encrypts data stored on devices. However, almost three-quarters say their security policies and safeguards need improvement.

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Hardware and software vendors are responding. Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung are part of a working group that last month promised a draft by year's end of its Mobile Trusted Module spec to create a security blueprint for device makers, software developers, and service providers. The lack of standardization among devices has made it difficult to deploy consistent security measures. Companies have experience protecting data, using VPNs for data in transit over the Internet and authentication and passwords for device security. Now they're adapting to mobile practices such as the option to remotely wipe data from misplaced devices. And vendors are catching on to the need. This month, software vendor Workshare debuted a product that monitors what data gets loaded onto mobile devices and what data is sent from them. Then there's this simple deterrent: letting IT departments remotely turn on a "scream" function, so a stolen device emits a high-pitched sound, using software from Synchronica, which extended the feature this month to Symbian smartphones.

These are all signs of progress. There will be plenty of problems to overcome. But mobile devices aren't going to be denied their place in companies alongside desktops and laptops.

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Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Carlo Massimo, Contributing Writer
Salvatore Salamone, Managing Editor, Network Computing