There's no such thing as a 'business cell phone'

By Mike Elgan, Computerworld |  Personal Tech, cell phone, iPhone

JD Power announced today that the Apple's iPhone ranked No. 1 in customer satisfaction for "smartphones in business," beating out LG and BlackBerry.

But wait, everybody knows the iPhone is a consumer device, and not ready for business. It's insecure! It has no keyboard! It has no back-end support! How can this be?

The JD Power results should force us to recognize a new reality: There's no such thing as a business phone anymore.

The business-employee divide

In every office, factory or other workplace, every piece of equipment exists somewhere on a scale, with a device that "benefits only company" at one extreme and "benefits only employee" at the other.

Company servers, PCs, and landline phones are clearly business equipment, as they're selected, provisioned, installed, and serviced by the company or service contractor for business purposes only. The user has no claims on these devices.

Eyeglasses, clothing, jewelry, wristwatches, heart pace-makers, hearing aids, wallets and other personal devices are the personal property of each employee. The company has no rights over or claims to any of them.

Where does a cell phone fit?

In ancient times (the 1980s and 1990s), cell phones were rare and expensive. If a company wanted executives or sales people to have cell phones, they had to be provisioned. As phones gained more capabilities and began resembling PCs, IT departments treated them as such. Like PCs, phones were (and still are) purchases based on company criteria, and for company purposes of security, data and application access and serviceability.

The industry has responded with all kinds of back-end solutions to facilitate corporate objectives. Companies like Palm, RIM and Microsoft and many others have developed phones, server software and other products designed to support the notion that a phone is a business tool to be provisioned and supported like a PC.

A study called "The Device Dilemma," commissioned by Good Technology and published last month, found that more than one-quarter of enterprises have already experienced "security breaches due to employees bringing unauthorized devices."

Nearly half of IT decision makers "would allow users to choose their own devices if they could be assured of security and configuration." The survey found that nearly 80% of companies saw a rise in the number of staff wanting to "bring their own devices into the workplace," the overwhelming majority of which specified iPhones.

The phrasing of and responses to these questions reveals a shockingly outdated view about the relationship between a company, an employee and the cell phone in every employee's pocket.

Do companies have a mechanism for strip-searching employees as they come to work? Full-body scans? Thugs frisking staff in the lobby?

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