Analyst cautions companies to preempt execs who might plug their personal iPhones into corporate network by setting up policies

Companies should prepare for iPhones

Image-conscious executives who want to own the latest tech gadgets might put their companies at risk if they try to connect iPhones to corporate networks, warns an analyst.

To guard against such eventualities, IT departments should begin drafting policies forbidding executives from connecting their Apple iPhones to company networks, said Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with the Enderle Group based in San Jose, Calif.

“The device isn’t secure enough, nor is it designed to run with corporate systems,” he said.

Companies spend a lot of time getting RIM and Palm handheld devices up to par so they can be secure enough to connect to company e-mail, he said.

Before the iPhone is as secure as the BlackBerry and Treo, it needs a product such as Good Technology Mobile, which is designed to securely deliver enterprise applications to mobile devices. But now that Good Technology has been bought by Motorola, it’s unclear whether it’d be interested in creating a product for Apple’s iPhone, Enderle said.

And even if third-party developers were interested in making applications for the iPhone that would turn it from a consumer toy to a business tool, it’s uncertain whether Apple wants to go that route. The phone is currently a closed platform, which means Apple hasn’t invited independent software vendors to develop applications for its platform.

And because the platform is closed, it’s not clear yet which applications are currently supported by the iPhone.

“I think Apple’s going to very tightly control the flow of applications onto this device,” said Charles Golvin, principal analyst for Forrester Research in San Francisco. “There are certain things that as a business user you need, and it’s not clear if it’s on the device yet.” Is there support for Microsoft Office documents such as PowerPoint or Adobe PDF? “Without those things, it’s usefulness as a business tool would be greatly reduced, but I think Apple recognizes that. I would be greatly surprised if those applications either didn’t come bundled with the phone or quickly found their way onto the phone inexpensively.”

Still, Golvin doesn’t think Apple will go directly after the business market.

Those targeting that market, such as RIM, don’t need to start worrying about Apple, said Brian Sharwood of the SeaBoard Group in Toronto. The two companies are going after very different markets and whereas Apple sells a piece of hardware, RIM sells a service, he said.

But because of the iPhone’s attractive form factor, executives are likely to start buying it when it becomes available in June in the U.S., and tech departments need to head them off at the pass by issuing policies that forbid iPhones from being connected to networks, Enderle said.

If executives insist on connecting iPhones, then the IT department has a duty to report the violation since it could mean that Sarbanes-Oxley or other compliance rules have been broken, Enderle said.

But not everyone is as worried about iPhones finding their way onto corporate networks.

The iPhone is secure because it has built-in support for IMAP or Internet Message Access Protocol and POP3 Mail, Golvin said.

Most organizations run Exchange, which has IMAP support, which means the iPhone can automatically receive push e-mail, unlike RIM devices, which need a BlackBerry Enterprise Server to receive e-mail, Golvin said. IT departments, will, however, have to be on the lookout for vulnerabilities for the device, he said.

But, like Enderle, Golvin agrees that iPhones will find their way into the enterprise via executives looking to get their hands on the latest devices. Executives who don’t have limits on what they spend are image-conscious and tend to buy Apple devices, he said. This is how the BlackBerry eventually found its way into the enterprise, he said.

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