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Mobile, Consumer Tech Transform Corporate Networks

Mobile computing and trends from the consumer world are reshaping the corporate network, attendees and analysts said during a discussion at Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla.

Everyone participating in a roundtable organized by Siemens Enterprise Communications agreed enterprise IT needs to get out of the business of limiting employees to a single mobile computing device or vendor. At the same time, corporate applications need to take on some of the characteristics of consumer mobile apps. The question is how to do that responsibly.

Wayne Jones, vice president of infrastructure services at International Flavor and Fragrance, a manufacturer of food and perfume ingredients, said BlackBerry is his current company standard mobile phone, but he wants to move toward embracing iPhone and Android as well.

"I don't want to be telling the customer what device to use. I want to get the device into their hands and let them figure out how to use it to improve their day," he said. Although the IT department has been evangelizing the value of chat, instant messaging, and presence capabilities, he suspects it will work better to tell workers "go use it, and tell us what it's good for."

On the other hand, trying to implement a consistent strategy across 43 countries is limited by what's available in each locale. "The local carriers play a big part in that," he said. For example, the Symbian mobile operating system promoted by Nokia "is huge in some parts of the world and not in others," he said.

Marty Parker, an analyst with UC Strategies, suggested that what's really needed is a "middleware layer" to translate between the peculiarities of different smart phone technologies the way enterprise middleware smoothes over differences between IT applications.

Jones said he would be interested in that, "but we're not ready yet." Near term, he is more interested in finding specific "micro apps" that do a good job of making selected functions from SAP and other enterprise systems accessible from smart phones.

Reginald Brinson, CIO of Clark Atlanta University, said he is looking for mobile apps that are as simple as possible and does not want to invest in internal development. The applications that are most useful for him are specific to his business, like student recruiting, he said.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of enterprise research at the Yankee Group, noted that so far the most intelligent use of mobile capabilities like location detection is showing up in consumer applications -- for example, to identify the most convenient or closest restaurant or movie theater. "Corporate apps don't work that way," he said.

Kerravala suggested that enterprise vendors need to invest in some "priming of the pump," perhaps by promoting developer communities for sharing tools and techniques.

"It's true that there are a million and one apps out in the consumer environment, but when we try to shoehorn those in to the enterprise network often we don't get the security," said Adrian Brookes, a Unified Communications strategist at Siemens. He said Siemens has created a developer community and is toying with the idea of creating an enterprise "app store."

Irwin Lazar, a unified communications analyst at Nemertes Research, said that when he works with enterprises to identify the potential for mobile apps he typically finds "a half dozen initiatives already under way, but they are very departmental." IT organizations need to insert themselves into those projects in a way that supports whatever the business units are trying to do, he said.