Enterprises that never expected to support personal consumer devices are slowly changing their minds, with 59 percent now supporting employee-owned smartphones in various ways; something unheard of when I worked in I.T. just a handful of years ago. The growing number, based on data in a Forrester research report published today, is likely to continue rising as the mobile lines between home and work keep blurring. That means more opportunity for device makers and mobile app developers to create solutions that effectively cater to both.
While Apple’s iOS has been making strong headway in enterprises, Forrester’s data shows that Google (s goog) still has a strong play in the workplace even as companies are wary of both. “[I]n the next 12 months, 83% of firms expect to support iOS and 77% expect to support Android, despite underlying security concerns for these platforms,” the report says. Given how the iPad is still outselling Google Android Honeycomb tablets by many factors, it sounds like businesses are supporting more Android smartphones as opposed to tablets, while iPads and iPhones are both making their way into the workplace.
But one can’t talk about enterprises without mentioning Windows(s msft), and in this case, it comes in two flavors: Windows on the desktop and Windows Phone on handsets. Although Forrester doesn’t come out and say it specifically in its report, the possibility of supporting Windows Phone in the workplace is certainly suggested. And that makes sense because there’s definitely room for a third major mobile platform and ecosystem.
After using the new Mango software update on a Windows Phone — and because competitors such as webOS(s hpq) and BlackBerry(s rimm) aren’t showing as much forward momentum — I think Windows Phone will be that third platform. Given the Microsoft Office, Sharepoint and Exchange hooks, it seems a natural fit for the enterprise.
In terms of Windows itself, there’s a mobile aspect worth considering which highlights a broader opportunity: mobile virtualization. As employees shift from desktops and laptops to smartphones and tablets for work, there’s still a need for desktop-grade software access. That can be handled on mobiles through remote desktop solutions such as LogMeIn Ignition or Citrix Receiver(s ctxs), allowing for secure desktop access from a tablet or smartphone, for example.
Remote desktop access is just one piece of the enterprise puzzle when it comes to consumer devices, however. Personal smartphones and tablets could be used to carry enterprise data, so secure methods are needed. And employees don’t want to see their work software in the way of games, social networking apps and other personal software. Virtualizing a work environment on the phone or tablet can keep the two worlds apart on the same device.
The MyModes software I used on a T-Mobile smartphone attempts to do this at the user interface level with different themes for work and play on the same smartphone, for example, but a truly virtual work environment on consumer devices brings needed security. A solution like the one from VMWare that I pointed out in December could temporarily turn an employee owned phone into an enterprise tool as needed with little to no risk of compromised data.
Regardless of the platform, device or mobile apps involved, it’s clear that enterprises can either embrace consumer devices or suffer unhappy employees that are forced to carry multiple mobiles for both work and personal use.