In the space of a decade, Apple’s iPhone has gone from being a consumer craze to the single product that some say most affects the design and operation of enterprise IT, turning a controlled, top-down environment into something far more open.
“I think the iPhone was probably one of the most impactful pieces of technology to come into the IT world since computing,” said VMware VP and chief information security officer Alex Tosheff, commenting on the 10th anniversary of the Apple iPhone, which was introduced on Jan. 9, 2007.
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The iPhone is a lot of different things – it’s a one-device personal computing revolution, design icon, and catastrophic drain on our attention spans, but those who aren’t in IT might not realize the degree to which it has shaped computing on a grander scale.
“I was one of those people in line waiting for it, the original iPhone,” said Needham Bank CIO James Gordon. ““At that time, it was not ready for prime-time, enterprise-wide [use] for a whole host of reasons, chiefly being no Exchange email support.”
That, to put it mildly, didn’t last. The advent of the iPhone 3G, running iOS 2.0, in 2008 brought ActiveSync and push email support, which put the device front and center for the IT departments.
Before the iPhone, the main challenge for enterprise mobility centered on email – a capability largely owned by BlackBerry, whose BlackBerry Enterprise Server was the original mobile device management product.
At least at first, iPhones were more work than BlackBerries, according to Tosheff, in part because there’s so much more that the iPhone and other smartphones are capable of.
“Apple’s not canonically an enterprise company. BlackBerry had the exchange server and all that.” This made securing devices a bit more straightforward, he added, but those devices were much more limited in what they could accomplish and the user experience “wasn’t great.”
Supporting iPhones in particular and Apple products in general, according to Kevin More, CIO of the healthcare and human services non-profit May Institute, is still not exactly a walk in the park, but the rewards are usually worth it.
“They’re very hard to manage in the enterprise: Apple doesn’t make it easy on the iPhone side and playing nice with Active Directory on the desktop side. It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “But the level of ‘it just works’ is definitely appealing. They’re always very elegant and a lot of thought has been put into the Apple design whether it be an iPhone or a computer.”
The popularity of the iPhone, among rank-and-file users and IT types alike, doesn’t need to be rehashed here at any great length. But that demand for Apple compatibility is still something that enterprises have had to deal with.
“We went from being completely a BlackBerry company to not being able to put anything but Apple products into our sales force’s hands, because they were in front of doctors,” said an IT expert at a large life sciences company, who asked not to be identified per company policy.
800-pound Enterprise Wireless gorilla
When its own runaway success began to prompt cellular providers to throw out unlimited data plans and push millions of smartphone users onto Wi-Fi, the iPhone became the 800-pound gorilla of enterprise wireless.
“Let me tell you, the applications definitely suck data in considerable amounts that the user is, rightfully so, blissfully unaware of,” said Gordon. “However, IT is not. We are completely aware of how much data these devices are eating.”
Enterprise wireless as a whole had to adjust quickly to the tsunami of new endpoints suddenly grasping for data on the network. Many networks had to be redesigned and expanded.
“In 2011 and 2012, we really had to start redesigning our network to accommodate the 5GHz band, the proliferation of devices, [and] to allow for people to have a good user experience without congestion,” he noted.
The bottom line, however, is that despite the headaches, the iPhone and the rest of the new generation of smartphones have revolutionized enterprise IT, adding new capabilities that companies simply couldn’t have created previously.
“We use biometrics and TouchID to authenticate people at a moment in time to do things they need to do, where normally, they’d have to put some password in,” said Tosheff.
“With the iPhones, employees could open up spreadsheets, deal with a more user-friendly interface and just basically make decisions quicker,” said the life sciences IT expert.
“[People] don’t have the patience or the time for a 30-minute account opening, or a long, convoluted process with different web forms,” said bank CIO Gordon. “It’s forced enterprises to simplify the process to get to the meat of the matter.”