Growth in phones, tablets outstripping ability of companies to manage them

IT is overwhelmed, but let the handhelds flow anyway, analysts say

As the stories revealing iPhones take random photos when you're not looking attest, it's hard to keep any level of control over any kind of mobile systems.

Phones, tablets, laptops (VMs, I suppose) the smaller and more convenient they get, the more likely it is something horrible will happen to them.

For example, they could get sucked into the dimensional vortex that eliminates millions of work hours from the national economy every year simply by stealing your keys.

Even if they're not left in airports or between couch cushions, smartphones, tablets and other

devices pose a huge and growing challenge to corporate IT departments, which are suddenly responsible for managing thousands of devices selected largely at the whim of the end user, configured to satisfy the needs of the service provider, changed or updated every six to 12 months rather than every 24 to 36, and are flooding into the market at a rate north of 450 million units per year.

Despite the influx of tablets to bolster the number of smartphones crowding into corporate IT, CIOs should by no means "make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were often written off early as expensive and frivolous toys, or executive status symbols."

Highly portable, powerful computing platforms whose data and networking abilities are generic enough to allow tremendous connectivity into pools of sensitive data and allow hordes of unregulated application development are a tremendous competitive advantage, according to Gartner.

That's despite the enormous cost of buying, tracking, integrating and securing the things, the total for which no analyst company has yet made a credible projection.

"Administering a traditional PC computing ecosystem centred around a single OS can cost thousands of dollars per employee per year. Supporting five times as many operating systems is unlikely to require fewer people and less money," according to consulting giant Deloitte's annual predictions for technology, media and telecom, which was published in January.

Just trying to keep up with the costs or flow of devices instead of taking the initiative and doing something creative with them, would be a serious mistake for anyone hoping for a future in IT or a little job security within IT executive offices, however, Gartner warns.

More than half of all the computing devices sold this year will not be computers, Deloitte predicts. That's this year, not the imaginary year that happens three-to-five years from now in analysts' tech-sales predictions.

What do you do to keep from being swamped? Automate.

Systems management vendors are ramping up their ability to handle mobile devices as quickly as IT is trying to adapt to them.

"I don't know what exactly it was, but about four months ago it was like someone flipped a switch and there was an incredible rush of activations for these devices in corporations," according to Mark Gentile, CEO of Odyssey Software, a systems-management vendor that announced a new version of its product today that supports devices running iOS and Android.

"I don't know if it's companies really embracing smart phones for peopole to get their email, or what it is. But we're getting calls – not that 'we're looking at the 2012 IT budget and here's an RFI,' it's more like ''can you send a team next week? I need to get a handle on these iOS and Android devices.'"

Most companies let employees use smartphones to get email or use CRM clients, but iPads especially are becoming standard parts part of line-of-business apps, especially in retail, healthcare and operational areas such as manufacturing or distribution, in which mid-level managers are often highly mobile within a facility.

Oddysey's Athena uses Microsoft's Systems Management server as the console that consolidates data on mobile and non-mobile systems alike.

It also provides "app store" functions that let end users download particular documents or applications or other resources according to their own needs.

Self service is scary for IT people accustomed to end users able to defeat any idiotproof systems preventing them from doing serious damage, according to IDC mobile-systems analyst Ian Song.

In virtual PCs or mobile computing, though, self-service not only makes IT look more like Apple or Google's app markets, it also spreads some of the work of supporting handhelds to the people actually holding them, he said.

Systems management apps require a lot more specialized functions for smartphones or tablets, Song said – the ability to remotely and securely wipe data from devices that have been lost, verify the security status of a device as it connects to the network or even monitor its location, Song said.

That doesn't make it any easier to keep your iPhone from shooting pictures of you when you don't tell it to. But it does make it far more likely that if one does shoot pictures of end users in compromising or ridiculous situations, at least IT will be able to enjoy them remotely.

Geeks need entertainment, too.

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