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Sunday, July 12, 2009

IT on the iPhone: 'Use at your own cost and peril'

[Originally posted July 12, 2009 on]

Ever wondered why your company will support Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry but not the iPhone? Does it seem like the corporate deck is stacked against Apple (AAPL)?

A conference call with four chief information officers organized by Morgan Stanley's Kathryn Huberty last week might have confirmed your worst fears.

Of the four guests, only one -- the CIO of a multi-billion dollar company who runs a Mac shop for the "creatives" who work there -- actively supports the iPhone.

The other three dismissed the device with varying degrees of curiosity and contempt.

  • "[Our company] doesn't explicitly prevent employees from using the iPhone," said one veteren CIO. "But we don’t support it through the help desk. So if there’s a problem we won’t help them with the issue."
  • "Frankly," added a second, "some management in our organization think it’s more of a toy/gimmick thing because of the way it's marketed."
  • The third summed up the posture of his department as "Use [it] at your own cost and peril."
What, exactly did these IT professionals see as the iPhone's shortcomings?

The most detailed answer came from Timothy Campos, the former CIO of KLA-Tencor (KLAC), a leading supplier of semiconductor yield enhancement equipment based in Milpitas, Calif.:
"Apple is way behind BlackBerry in terms of centralized management of these devices," he said. "They’re starting to catch up, but in terms of being able to control and manage what is on the device, to configure the device, to do remote provisioning of the device, to make sure the device works -- we can do that for the BlackBerry; we can’t do that for the iPhone.
"It’s a solvable problem, but there’s no business case -- at least in our industry -- for solving that problem. And so do we don’t do it.
"What's interesting about the iPhone is [that] the capability of the device is tremendous," he added. "We're looking closely at it. There are a lot of people in IT who play around with it. So I wouldn’t say we have our heads in the sand. And as Apple catches up on the centralized management issues, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we would replace BlackBerrys with iPhones, or add iPhones to the mix."
That sentiment got dittos across the board. But in the current economic climate -- which has put constraints on IT spending at all four companies -- these managers are not looking to complicate their lives.

"We might have taken it on if it weren't for the downturn," said the managing director of IT at a ceramics manufacturing company that already supports two mobile platforms -- BlackBerry and Palm. His department was thinking of adding the iPhone to the mix. But "that was one of the projects we didn’t need to take on," he said.

Apple can take comfort in the fact that IT's resistance to change is generalized and not restricted to the iPhone. Three of these four shops are still running Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows XP -- with no plans to move up to either Vista or Windows 7.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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