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With these improvements, IT managers have loosened their restrictions. A recent survey of nearly 200 enterprise IT decision makers by the research firm Yankee Group shows widening support for multiple operating systems [see chart].

This trend is causing some important shifts in policy. “The rules have rapidly changed,” says Mort Rosenthal, CEO of Enterprise Mobile, which helps companies deploy and manage mobile initiatives. Now, he says, those rules call for individual liability and corporate responsibility: employees must be careful not to lose their devices, yet the devices must be equipped with features that let IT departments react quickly if they do.

The database software company Sybase recently implemented a BYOD policy, allowing employees to choose from a list of 20 devices. The employee pays for and owns the device; Sybase picks up the service fees and manages the data apps, such as e-mail, contacts, and its Afaria software, which can be used to wipe the phone if it is lost or stolen. The result: nearly half of Sybase’s 4,000-plus employees have smart phones running the company’s work applications, according to Jim Swartz, the company’s CEO.

Under a BYOD plan, the issue of who pays the bill is a big one. A company would typically pay for a certain number of voice minutes and an unlimited data plan for its employees. The wireless industry’s shift to usage-based pricing for data will require companies to develop new policies, since they surely don’t want their employees downloading movies or games on their nickel. Companies are moving toward giving employees a reasonable allowance to cover the work functions of a mobile device, leaving the worker responsible for any additional costs.

App stores such as the ones on iPhones and Android phones have also helped IT departments, because any consumer-type applications can easily be billed to the user’s credit card through iTunes or Android Market. Business applications can be deployed outside the iTunes framework through programs such as Apple’s MDM, so it’s easier to separate work and personal functions.

This “Chinese wall” concept is the basis of a product from Good Technology, whose thousands of customers include nearly half the Fortune 100. The technology creates a virtual application environment on any mobile device so that it can have separate “personalities” for work and play, each with its own login. When you’re in your personal space, “you don’t want to have to enter a password to access Facebook,” says John Herrema, Good’s senior vice president of corporate strategy.

Herrema cites Starbucks as an example of a company using the virtual application environment to separate the user’s work and personal worlds. This way, when a manager from Starbucks headquarters takes his smart phone into a coffee shop, his boss doesn’t have to know he’s there.

Mark Lowenstein is an independent analyst who specializes in mobile computing as managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, a Boston-based research and consulting firm.

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Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Business, Business Impact, The Mobile Enterprise

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