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For You, iPhone, Anything

Here's how one CIO bent--well, blew up--the company's smartphone policy to let the iPhone in the door.
Here's how one CIO bent--well, blew up--the company's smartphone policy to let the iPhone in the door.For a long time, Sybase CIO Jim Swartz banned the iPhone. "As a CIO, you're never popular when you say 'No,'" Swartz says. "So when we said no to the iPhone, that didn't stop the calls asking 'Why?' "

With the iPhone 3GS, though, the phone met Swartz's two cardinal rules for a smartphone--data could be encrypted, and it could be remotely wiped clean if lost. And its improved performance only made the requests for it louder. "iPhones have kind of changed the landscape, especially since the 3GS was released," Swartz says.

But how could Swartz justify that Apple premium price? He doesn't. Sybase employees have to qualify for phone service. Then, Sybase provides cellular service from a set list of providers and a standard phone that's usually less than $50. "If you want something more than that, you go out and buy it," he says. "That was kind of a veiled acquiescence to allow people to get iPhones." In just the few months since the policy started, about 300 Sybase employees have bought iPhones under the plan.

Of course, Sybase has business reasons to be adventurous with smartphones, since it sells mobile device management software, such as an over-the-air software delivery tool, Afaria, along with its historical database management and data integration software. Not coincidentally, Sybase now has software to support iPhones. I get all that.

But I still think Sybase's policy could make sense for other companies. "We're not very good, and I don't think most companies are very good at, asset management," Swartz says. Instead, he wants to focus on protecting company data and applications, regardless of the device.

At some companies, the iPhone policy is you can use them, but don't ask IT for any support. Sybase puts the full enterprise app lineup onto any smartphone employees buy. That includes certain encrypted apps including company e-mail, a corporate directory, customer data tools for salespeople, and software for managers to approve purchase orders and HR requests. Sybase also is in the proof of concept stage of delivering a virtual desktop, over a VPN, to an iPhone.

Sybase lets employees use their smartphones for personal use, as long as it doesn't exceed service plans. And if people lose or break their iPhone, the repair bill is the employees', too. "In some sense that takes the burden off the IT department," he says.

Swartz had a business reason that made it easy to justify opening the door to iPhones. But plenty of CIOs have already written their own iPhone exception policies, and more will do so.

(For more thoughts on the iPhone, check out a previous post, Time For An iPhone Strategy)