In today's workplace where most people carry their own mobile devices, many firms are racing to ensure corporate IT policies are secure
The ITEXPO show opens tomorrow in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, featuring key speakers including the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and covering a diverse range of corporate tech issues such as cloud computing and "transforming your mobile workforce".
In the US and elsewhere employees are increasingly knowledgeable about consumer electronics and wish to access corporate data on their family of preferred devices, both at the office and when they work at home.
Social networking via Facebook and Twitter is on the rise alongside comparable services in other parts of the world such as Qzone in China as more people plug in to the Web.
Just a few years ago, a shiny BlackBerry was a ubiquitous accessory among professionals. Today, however, more companies are encouraging employees of all levels on the corporate ladder to bring their own devices, particularly smartphones, laptops and tablets, into the workplace.
On one hand, today's bring your own device (BYOD) environment boosts productivity and employee satisfaction, facilitates improved communication among colleagues and keeps companies from footing these communcations bills. On the other, it has got businesses racing to ensure security restrictions are in place, networks are secure and workplace data can still be monitored, all while keeping employees' personal data private.
This becomes more complex when new technologies such as the enterprise cloud, cloud-based apps and social media are added into the equation regarding the exchange of corporate data.
Email and corporate communications going mobile is, without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges in the business IT sector, says Brent Iadarola, the global research director for the business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
IT experts point to the industry's rapidly rising penetration levels when illustrating the explosion of mobile devices. In the past 10 years, the smartphone has reached 60 per cent penetration in the US. By the year 2020, 300 to 400 per cent penetration is expected, according to the consultant Frost & Sullivan.
That is remarkable considering it took a generation or two for the telephone to reach 90 per cent penetration in America, and it took the mobile phone, which preceded the smartphone, approximately 20 years to reach 100 per cent penetration.
"Mobile internet has ramped up faster than anything we've ever seen," says Mr Iadarola. "We're in the Information Age, with unparalleled rates of usage and adaption."
He says today, 75 per cent of companies in the US allow personally owned devices in the workplace, but only 24 per cent of those companies have a formal compliance program in place for BYOD.
The mobile device management company AirWatch is cashing in on it by offering 8,000 customers around the world, ranging from the US House of Representatives to many hospitals, oil companies and airlines, IT solutions that deliver flexibility while also enforcing corporate security.
"This trend of having 24/7 access to workplace data all started with the BlackBerry, which was almost always provided by the company, and then the world shifted with the release of the iPhone and now the Android," says Alan Dabbiere, the chairman of AirWatch.
AirWatch, which recently raised US$200 million in series A, or first stage, funding valuing the firm at more than $1 billion, remotely enables company resources such calendars, contacts, VPN to connect into an enterprise, employee manuals and help desks on employees' smartphones, tablets and other devices and continues to monitor security and application updates throughout the life of the gadgets.
Mr Dabbiere says AirWatch solutions can prevent potentially disastrous communication glitches from occurring. He cites a recent example of a banker accidently using his iPhone's voice activation feature Siri to trade 10,000 shares of stock in a customer's account.
Another banker involved in mergers and acquisitions inadvertently tipped off an outsider to a major company takeover because his smartphone allowed anyone to access his incoming and outgoing call history. AirWatch says its service also eliminates the need for physical files and documents, such as doctors' reference books and pilots' flight charts. Its recent success is just one example of another trend that IT experts are acknowledging: the movement away from big IT corporations such as IBM and Oracle "calling all the shots" and medium-sized, more agile technology companies "gaining momentum", says Brian Cotton, the vice president of information and communications technology for Frost & Sullivan.
"We are in the middle of a tectonic shift in technology," says Phil Edholm, the president of PKE Consulting.
"Enterprises always thought of IT as something that adapts to business, but the wave of the future is that businesses will have to adapt to IT."
He says by next year, 4 billion new devices will be sold around the planet and that consumer electronics are moving toward disposable gadgets that are increasingly cheaper.
"I would argue that we're about to undergo a major change in how we see devices, especially with the entrance of Mozilla-based applications and HTML5," he says.
HTML5 is a mark-up language used for structuring and presenting content for the internet.
Mr Edholm adds today's devices are driven more by appearance and special features versus internal components such as the gadget's operating system.
"This becomes a huge issue in BYOD. All of these people have different devices now and are becoming smarter and smarter and want to use them in the workplace," he says.