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Analysis: Mobile E-Mail

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They lurk in airport lounges and Starbucks and are guaranteed to give IT pros goose bumps. Mobile e-mail users, thumbs frantically jabbing as they squint at tiny screens. It's not the pasty faces and sweaty palms clutching Crackberries that scare us. It's the idea of managing, securing—and paying for—all those devices and data plans.

Get ready for that reality. Mobile e-mail, once limited to a few categories of employees, is poised for major growth. A 2006 report from the Radicati Group predicts that today's 12 million or so mobilized e-mail boxes will jump to 199 million by 2010. A separate study from Strategy Analytics estimates that 15% of business e-mail boxes will be mobilized by 2009, and more than half of the forward-looking InformationWeek 500 companies said they have wireless e-mail widely deployed.

What's to account for the increase? Cynics may cite a Digital Life America survey that found 19% of mobile e-mail users work more than 50 hours per week, compared with just 11% of their non-smartphone-wielding brethren. Whether mobile e-mail is a cause or an effect here doesn't really matter. Fact is, e-mail and other collaboration tools, such as calendaring, have become essential to business operations, and IT needs to develop a strategic mobilization plan before we're overrun. Doing mobile e-mail on a tactical basis almost guarantees you'll pay too much and be less secure and less flexible when you decide to deploy other, more complex, mobile vertical applications, such as customer relationship management and sales force automation.

To help enterprise IT groups find the best partner for managing mobile e-mail and associated devices, we submitted RFIs to the leading vendors in this space: Microsoft, Motorola/Good Technology, Nokia/Intellisync, Research in Motion and Sybase iAnywhere. All responded. The main takeaways: Differences among mobile e-mail products have become more nuanced as the market space has matured. All the respondents have credible enterprise offerings, and most have made strides with policy enforcement. That's good news for enterprise IT.

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