IT braces for iPhone debut

Some IT managers are anticipating the moment when the CEO walks in with an iPhone and demands to read his corporate email on it

As scheduled release of Apple's iPhone on June 29 draws ever closer, some IT managers are hustling to get ready to support the new devices, anticipating the moment when the CEO walks in with one and demands to read his corporate email on it.

For example, the official policy at ABC at this point is not to support the iPhone at all. But some exceptions will be made for top executives, says Jeff Plotkin, an engineer and technology liaison in broadcast operations at the New York-based media company.

"For one or two ABC [division] presidents, we'll make the walls move to allow it because we're in the communications business," Plotkin says, noting that the executives will want to examine the iPhone's possible business uses.

Plotkin and other IT managers expect the iPhone to be very alluring to their workers, even though the multifunction device won't support Notes or Windows Outlook email. Instead, it will include a web client for accessing email.

The iPhone could prove to be a nightmare for some IT departments because it requires an iTunes music directory account for each user. That could potentially put IT in the position of having to provide storage capacity for songs and ensure that copyrights aren't being violated.

"How many enterprises want iTunes running around in the enterprise?" asks Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. He noted that "lots" of Gartner clients have been asking questions about business use of the iPhone. IT managers "are scared of this device," he says.

A policy at Marriott International prohibits employees from using iTunes on any of the company's systems, says Arnaldo Impelizieri, director of hotel technology at the Grande Lakes Orlando resort, which is run by Marriott.

"We're worried about the size of iTunes files, and also who is buying songs or not, and the huge concern about potential copyright infringements," Impelizieri says.

But he adds that Marriott faces a dilemma because it will want to support the iPhone for guests at its hotels. "If a customer has one, we'll do our best to support it," he says. "But that will require some sorting out."

Tim Ma, a biomedical engineer at the American Red Cross in Washington who also does some IT planning for the nonprofit organisation, says he expects pressure from end users to support the iPhone. But, he says, "it's too early in the game to say if we'd support it. We'd need a proven track record before moving forward."

Ma says he is curious about the iPhone's benefits for a large organisation like the Red Cross. For one thing, Apple's device will have a full-screen web browser, which could give it an advantage over Research In Motion's BlackBerry. Nonetheless, "we have a contract with BlackBerry for a long time," Ma says.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates says he doesn't consider this version of the iPhone to be suitable for business users unless they limit their use of the device to functions such as phone calls.

"Everybody assumes that because Apple makes it, the iPhone will be great, but it's hard to make a good phone, let alone [one that can] pass data," Gold says. "Still, executives are going to come back from the store and tell IT to make it work."

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