Enterprises face device fragmentation challenge

Introduction of Web-connected devices into workplace creates "very complex" environment for IT managers to manage, notes industry analyst, who suggests mobile browser as short-term solution.

IT managers used to administrating one device type are now challenged by fragmentation as employees introduce a range of Web-connected devices in the workplace, according to an analyst.

Carter Lusher, Ovum's research fellow and chief analyst for enterprise applications ecosystem, said enterprise IT managers are facing fragmentation issues with users bringing in many devices that run on different platforms.

IT administrators now have to contend with devices ranging from manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, Samsung and LG, which run on different platforms such as Microsoft Phone 7 or Google Android, Lusher explained.

Administrating multiple devices can be "very complex" for IT managers who are more comfortable with managing one type of device as it is more secure and easier to support, he said, in a recent interview with ZDNet Asia.

However, this environment is unlikely to change and IT managers will need to step out of their comfort zones. "People want to use their device so the challenge for the IT manager is [to figure out] how to support user access [to company data].

"The big issue for the IT manager is not so much the technology but the training, technical support and testing needed," the analyst added.

Mobile browsers as short-term answer
A short-term resolution is to create an interface that can be accessed via a mobile browser, said Lusher. "IT manager can specify which mobile browser to use to make [access] more secure and [the users] can use their phones [to access the corporate data]," he said.

However, the IT administrator will have to make sure the interface is efficient for viewing on mobile browsers and does not consume too much bandwidth, he said.

Lusher stressed that allowing access through mobile browsers should only be a short-term answer as such browsers carry security risks that can be exploited by malicious hackers.

Instead, a long-term solution is for IT managers to build an underlying platform which app clients from different devices can plug into and securely access their corporate network, he said.

Apart from security issues, enterprises should also be mindful that their employees' workflow can be negatively impacted when the devices fail due to software updates pushed by the device makers.

In a September blog post, Andrea Di Maio, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said the consumerization of enterprise devices such as replacement of corporate smartphones with consumer phones "looks like a victory of people over the organization, of business over IT, [and] consumerization rules and IT departments need to adapt, users bypass the IT department and connect straight to the vendor". He noted that the direct relationship to the vendor means users are at the mercy of the manufacturer.

Di Maio described how his family members' iPhone 3G failed to work properly after he upgraded the phone to the new iOS 4 mobile operating system. In the end, he had to downgrade the phone to an older version of the operating system, which "required loads of effort and several leaps of fate", he said.

"It seems to me that the more users get rid of their IT support colleagues with their boring [Research in Motion's] BlackBerries or Nokias, the more they can be held hostage by vendors like Apple and others, whose technical and commercial decisions may affect them or more likely force them to upgrade to a new phone," he added.

He called for consumer protection to prevent manufacturers from making products less usable over time. "It is good that Apple seems to be addressing this [with a fix in iOS 4.1], but consumers should not be struggling so much before getting a (possible) fix," he added.