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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Thank you to all who took the time to comment on the recent article "Mobile email: Let's have a heated debate." Although there are some differences of opinion, nearly all our commentators felt that mobile email is a valuable tool.

There's clearly a sentiment in some circles that the BlackBerry and its cousins are ego tools for influential personnel in a company. This is surely amplified by the fact that it's a Gizmo that you have to be granted by a company, since it requires server-side configuration. If you flash one in the pub, everyone knows that your employer deems you important enough to spend more money on than your peers. It has become a modern example of the company car as a benefit in kind status symbol.

The BlackBerry takes a bit of a bashing for being a simple device, compared, say, to the potential integration possibilities of Windows Mobile devices, or some of the other solutions suggested such as Openhand, Goodlink and Intellisync.

Yet BlackBerry has achieved a marked degree of success, and many of its proponents state that it's not just the push nature of email, but also the simplicity of the device and the ease of use of the thumb keypad.

One may criticise the iPod for many things, but it's interesting to note that its straightforward design has so far resisted the concerted efforts of several companies to unseat it.

A number of readers point out that Microsoft has now added push email functionality as a free upgrade with Service Pack 2 for Exchange. Initial reviews indicate that it's pretty basic, and enterprises will need to consider carefully if it offers the level of functionality and policy based management they need. It's good to see that Blackberry is not standing still, but is working to improve these aspects of the product line.

Business has shown that it's willing to spend more money on top of a free shipping feature from Microsoft if there's real added value there. Another good example of this is Citrix, whose Presentation Server (formerly MetaFrame) product survived the launch of Microsoft terminal services for just this reason. It is to be hoped that more companies like Slipstream Solutions jump into the market seeking to innovate on top of the Microsoft platform.

Although these and other solutions are clearly managing server-based email accounts, there's still quite a way to go until we see a proper integration of POP and IMAP email with true synchronisation.

For example, services like RIM's BlackBerry Internet Solution (BIS) are going some of the way to meeting this need, with the latest version able to do synchronisation of handheld changes back to the account for GMail and Yahoo!. However, this only covers email (not other PIM functions like calendar, to do, and contacts), is limited to these two providers, and will not synchronise changes on the account down to the device.

The social issues caused by push email are clearly of concern to a number of people, one comment goes to the heart of the matter: the expectation that by having a mobile email device you practice synchronous rather and asynchronous communication. The danger is that a company culture evolves where you are expected to be online and immediately responsive at any time or any location; leaving family and dinner at the table to reply to an email from your manager, for example. All reasonable employers would recognise that adding to their staff's level of stress and destroying their social lives is not a profitable course of action.

Clearly the answer is for mobile email to be a tool that enables new forms of competitive advantage for a company. As part of their business management, companies need to look at their processes and seek for new value-add that can come from the use of mobile email devices, not just the basic ability to watch your inbox fill up at any time or place. Many companies are extending EAP functions onto mobile devices, for example service reports or job dispatch, using a variety of mobile email applications.

Once this new competitive advantage is articulated, it becomes much easier to write the requirements for the devices that are to be used, and also to present the tool to the workforce in a way that shows that it's essential to the business, not the egos of the people using it.

So, against this background, what are you doing with mobile email? Take our quick 1 minute poll here. ®

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