Company switches from BlackBerry to iPhone, new OS is key
During the next few months, Varian Medical’s Matt Morse plans to live out of a suitcase, venturing around the world for the sole purpose of ushering the iPhone (and maybe the iPad) into his enterprise. He’ll spend time developing a strategy for the iPhone that fits into his company’s existing IT infrastructure and meets security and budget requirements, followed by a series of test cases.
If all goes well, sometime next year he’ll begin to deploy the iPhone and replace the BlackBerry for field service workers. “There are so many facets to look at in a new platform,” says Morse, senior IT admin at Varian Medical, a manufacturer of medical devices and software for hospitals and clinics in 60 countries. “I think the discovery phase and proof of concept will take at least six months.”
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled iOS 4, formerly known as iPhone OS 4.0, earlier this year, CIOs and tech analysts cheered iOS 4’s deep enterprise support. iOS 4 promised wireless distribution of in-house apps, multitasking, app and email data protection, mobile device management upgrades, and support for SSL VPN via apps from Juniper and Cisco, among other features.
But iOS 4’s expected release to the general public this summer won’t open the enterprise floodgates for the iPhone right away. Rather, it will only signal the beginning of the iPhone’s long march into the corporate world. For techies like Morse, much work still needs to be done.
The security equation changes
For the past five years, Varian employees have carried BlackBerrys to help them do their jobs. Varian’s BlackBerry users are on the frontlines in both sales and field service, tapping into a Microsoft Exchange collaboration messaging system with hooks into SharePoint, Office Communicator and VoIP.
Varian developed an app called MSO, or mobile services online, that lets BlackBerry field technicians securely connect to SAP on the backend. With MSO, they can handle customer-service tickets without having to fire up a laptop. They can look up schedules, dispatch orders, and allocate resources. MSO’s end result: response times within 10 minutes.
When the iPhone debuted three years ago, Varian executives warmed to the beautiful interface. Every year, more and more employees asked for an iPhone, Morse says. With the release of the iPhone 3G, Morse and his team had to officially support it. Today, one out of three mobile devices at Varian is an iPhone.
But none of the approximately 1,600 field technicians around the world are allowed to turn in their BlackBerries for iPhones—at least, not yet.
The reason? Field technicians absolutely depend on MSO, and MSO is not on the iPhone because of lingering security, reliability and management concerns. “BlackBerry has the enterprise integration with BES to really give us a securely and remotely managed device,” Morse says. “Policies can be enforced, and we can guarantee a lot more uptime and monitor it better than we can with an Active Sync-type device like the iPhone.”
But with its touted security and management features, iOS 4 has the potential to bring the iPhone on par with the BlackBerry, Morse says. Of course, he’ll have to wait for the general release to know for sure. “I’ve looked at the early SDK, but we don’t play with beta versions here,” Morse says. “iPhone 4.0 gives us the opportunity to begin the real discovery of the device capabilities.”
Another upside: Varian has been using Zenprise MobileManager for BlackBerry management, which helps IT departments identify who is using a mobile device, how the device is accessing the network, and what version of the OS is installed. Zenprise MobileManager now supports the iPhone.
Before Morse can give the iPhone the green light for field service technicians, he’ll also need to standardize on the iPhone 3GS because of its device encryption—that is, the current standardization on iPhone 3G won’t work for field technicians who require a higher level of security.
End goal: Quickly-deployed web apps
Yet security and management are just part of iPhone enterprise adoption. The iPhone represents an entirely new development platform and services architecture. Morse will have to consider not just the iPhone but what it will bring forth in the future (and whether or not Apple and the iPhone can handle it).
For Morse, though, that’s a good problem.
He gets excited, for instance, about the iPhone’s potential as an end-point to Web apps. The beauty of Web apps, he says, is a faster release cycle. Think of a dynamic MSO. iPhones and iPads “would be a rock star of a solution,” Morse says. “We’re not talking about just a mobile device with some glamorous interface technology, we’re talking about having something that lets people do work and solve problems and that can be reliably revisited over and over again.”
But first Morse will have to meet with field service managers, engineers and installers around the world to find out how an iPhone or iPad can improve their jobs. Can the iPhone’s geo-location help them allocate resources better? Will mobile social networking help? What data should the iPhone track? Can the iPhone facilitate customer interaction?
“There’s an amazing amount of discovery because the capability [of the iPhone] is so large,” Morse says. “Then we have to pare it down into a viable scope, otherwise you’re going to shoot the moon and you’re never going to get anything deployed.”
[Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley.]