iDevices and the Enterprise

I run a medium scale enterprise with lots of Group Policy, Security and the usual IT control accoutrements. Increasingly, I’m becoming a big fan of the iPad. Sure, I still don’t have a personal need for one. On the same hand, those who have made the personal investment haven’t been a thorn in my side. They’ve been something of an inspiration. Part of that is my attitude: I refuse to let others choosing their own technologies bother me and give into the notion that IT must defend it’s every investment decision as moral-bound scripture.

The problems we must grapple with as IT professionals aren’t immediately apparent to the users or even our business leaders. User expectations, support resources, enterprise scaling and time honored IT traditions are the barrels we’re staring down. It really is like staring down the barrel of a gun – after all, this is a computing revolution. We’re caught in the cross hairs of both the revolutionaries and the established industry.

User Expectations

Many users (perhaps 70% at my firm) expect IT folk to “fix everything” and somehow apply the time-tested Windows/Unix/Enterprise style support for the iDevice. It’s not entirely possible, however. A different approach is necessary. Each user must take it upon themselves to support their device and apps. That’s a tall order for many who find themselves long coddled by IT departments (mine is no exception here) who will do everything for the user when they call the helpdesk. We’ve set a stupid expectation that we are the wizards of everything consuming electricity.

We’ve set a stupid expectation that we are the wizards of everything consuming electricity.

I have visits from executives approaching me with their iDevices asking what seem like very legitimate helpdesk questions: Why is app X crashing? Why is my Calendar missing appointments? Why can’t I change the fonts on my icons? Most are frustrated with my explanations. I don’t have the debug tools or special knowledge bases to guide me to an answer. I have only the same anecdotes that they have to resolve their issues. That doesn’t happen in Windows-land too often.

Support Resources

This is perhaps one of the more profound differences between iDevices and our PC Domains. Users and IT folk alike are largely dependent on Apple for support. I’ve had only a small handful of issues with iPad that was something I could help with. 5% of questions I can help with. 25% of inquiries are caused by defective hardware. 70% of the time a reload of iOS is required.

I can reload the iOS just fine without Apple’s help, though the process of reloading passwords for every Tom, Dick and Harry application is frustrating to the users who have yet to embrace the art of password management.

Each user should manage their own support interactions directly with the Apple and app developers.

I sometimes send the more difficult users to the Genius bar for a 2nd opinion after I’ve determined the only recourse for an issue is reloading iOS. Why? Difficult users tend to kick and scream when told that their iOS must be reloaded (particularly if they’ve been through it before.) It’s perhaps one of the the most disruptive and (sadly) common troubleshooting steps with iDevices. The difference is that I may give in and waste hours trying to figure out an alternative to reloading the iOS out of fear for my employment. Genius Bar folks will kick you out of the store if you melt down into a puddle of demanding, irrational temper-tantrum child seeking an alternative fix (they did to me.)

Hardware issues, however, require a scheduled trip to the Genius bar. No drop ins allowed. Nobody is more important than someone else.

This is a new model that not everyone is yet comfortable with. Each user should manage their own support interactions directly with the Apple and app developers. Many don’t want to – they’ve always had IT do it for them. It’s disruptive for their established workflow. It would require them to learn yet another skill set they thought was fully delegated.

Enterprise Scaling

The Enterprise has built systems to make the most of their Domain-oriented IT investments. The iDevices are in direct defiance of this by design. They are user-centric in every way. Steve Jobs once said he wanted to bring a Liberal Arts perspective to computing. He succeeded. Enterprises must figure out how to embrace this technology that disrupts status quo. It’s nearly impossible using conventional tactics. The primary difference as I see it is that each user must personalize the iDevice with a suite of applications, multiple accounts and settings without the convenience of ‘defaults’ being set in advance.

Steve Jobs once said he wanted to bring a Liberal Arts perspective to computing. He succeeded.

Enterprises have long used the ‘defaults’ as a way to quickly mobilize workers. You can’t simply join an iPad to the domain, push apps and configuration defaults or take control of it at will.

IT folks like to complain about iDevice security. This is a ridiculous waste of time. First, Apple patches holes in iOS as it finds them. Second, there aren’t any formidable malware threats to the iOS (so long as you haven’t jailbroken you iDevice.) Third, there are tools from Apple for securing iDevices. Fourth, all apps can be individually secured by their developers if they choose to do so.

You shouldn’t have the iPads on your network – they don’t want to be there any more than you want them mingling with your corporate gateway routers.

On the whole security tip, if your network applications are so insecure that you are genuinely concerned about iPads on your network, don’t worry. You shouldn’t have the iPads on your network – they don’t want to be there any more than you want them mingling with your corporate gateway routers. If you don’t have it already, setup a basic WiFi network with Internet Access and let the iPad come through your firewall to get to apps. No brainer.

IT Traditions (aka the dirty little secret of IT)

Enterprises must support a large number of users, systems and storage bases. Doing so is far from trivial. Most IT shops have put systems in place to manage the scale and complexities. These systems work with traditional IT systems.

Here’s the secret: When you control the back-end, you control the endpoint too. Budgeting for expensive system, hardware upgrades, software updates and everything else is a known quantity when you lock down the endpoints to a specific configuration. IT delivers a full package solution to the company for an optimized cost. Hurray for low cost!

Better yet, there are plenty of 3rd Parties to beat up on when things don’t work right with traditional software/systems deployments. IT can spend their days (though few of us enjoy it) playing nanny to software and hardware vendors to fix issues.

You have zero pull with Apple. Apple bullies Google around. Don’t forget that.

Now, if your people are all using iDevices, you have Apple between you and the user – even if you develop your own iDevice app! You have zero pull with Apple. Apple bullies Google around. Don’t forget that. Furthermore, you don’t have clever workarounds with iDevices, you can’t predict what Apple is going to do in the next iOS upgrade, you don’t know what will break or change, and to top it all off – most of us don’t get pre-release to test out in advance. Unlike Windows, when a new iOS upgrade is out, users just upgrade. No planning, no regression testing, no user acceptance validation.

Oh, the horror!

Or is it? Is it really that important? Maybe the answer to all woes is to stop caring so much about what we don’t have control over and figure out instead how to leverage it to bring value to the organization. It’s not perfect, but when is a revolution perfect at the start?

To each their own

Each company will draw their own line in the sand on the iDevice issue. Individuals who embrace the Apple revolution will likely be just fine. They aren’t losing sleep, they’re instead dreaming ways to solve personal workflow issues X, Y and Z that IT has neglected for years.

Sadly, the Legacy IT coffin is running out of space for additional nails.

Those who are forced into the revolution will bitch, moan, complain and throw things. That includes not just IT people, but old-school end users as well. It’s a reversal of who’s in charge of the technology “push”. Many legacy IT folks who hate to be told what to do find iDevices appalling and do everything to avoid their proliferation. Sadly, the Legacy IT coffin is running out of space for additional nails. Even the most staunch of enterprises have already started making baby steps in the direction of the Apple revolution.

I’m of the mind to encourage the revolutionaries. They are better at trying things out and deciding if it works or not. They are also the future leaders of the companies we work at today or will be working at tomorrow. Sure, some ground rules are necessary, but don’t need to be overly constrictive.

IT has always been a profession charged with navigating new technology for the organization. Some of us have become overwhelmed, complacent or lazy – leaning on our systems of control as ways to prevent our users from doing things that will cause us more work.

It’s time to do our jobs again.

Go buy an iPad (or two) and get creative. Everyone else is.

Greg

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