If video killed the radio star, then you could say that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) killed the IT-controlled corporate mobile device -- or at least it helped accelerate its demise. But we are starting to see a change in the idea of corporate mobile devices as companies look for new ways to take advantage of mobile advances without necessarily giving every employee a corporate phone.
The quintessential IT-corporate phone was the BlackBerry. But when IT allowed employees to choose their own devices, they chose other options, mostly Android and iOS devices -- and even the latest BlackBerry phones are unlikely to change that. While the change started with users, we're starting to see companies abandon the BlackBerry as their corporate standard, too.
But there seems to be growing demand for a new kind of corporate mobile device -- not one that gives IT command and control of the general cell phone, but that simply takes advantage of the mobile form factor for specific tasks. With this new device, IT issues a standard tablet (or perhaps smartphone), but locks it down to a few work-related functions. It's sort of like the special-purpose embedded devices of yesteryear.
For example, I'm working on a story right now about American Airlines giving Samsung Galaxy Notes to its 17,000 flight attendants -- not to make phone calls or download their favorite apps, but to track customer information, including special meals, connecting flights and other essential information unique to each passenger. These devices offer the perfect combination of form and function, allowing flight attendants to hold them in one hand, but then slip them easily into a pocket when they need to operate hands-free. Eventually American Airlines plans to a develop a suite of customer service tools for the device, including one for recording orders from passengers.
In another case, Bloomberg reports the US government is handing out "neutered iPads" to thousands of government employees. Even the president reportedly has his own iPad -- and you may recall he was forced to give up his beloved BlackBerry when he came into office in 2009 because of security concerns. To show how far we've come, the Bloomberg story reports that the president receives his daily intelligence briefing on a neutered iPad. You can easily imagine the president or any government employee reviewing documents or photos and accessing government enterprise applications with the ease of a tap and a swipe.
For anyone dealing with lots of information, these tablets offer a compelling way to interact with content. From an IT perspective, they're relatively inexpensive, and there's a large ecosystem of developers and peripheral makers who can help extend their functions.
Employees have made it clear that they don't want IT choosing their phones, and plenty of organizations give users full-featured tablets (or allow them to bring their own to work) and encourage them to use them for both personal and business functions. But there's still a huge role for IT when it comes to special-purpose mobile devices.