How businesses can embrace individual-liable smartphones

With the smartphone market expected to outshine the overall mobile phone market for the foreseeable future, the growing influence of new devices and platforms, including Apple, RIM, Android, Palm, etc. and the ever-present hybrid user model where personal and professional lines are blurred, the critical nature of the individual-liable business device is evident. IDC splits converged mobile devices (CMDs, also known as smartphones) into three categories and defines them as such:

Corporate-liable CMDs includes all business sizes and types as long as devices are purchased with corporate funds or the employee receives formal reimbursement from the organization for the purchase of the devices.

Individual-Liable Business Use CMDs must meet at least one of the following conditions: 1, Purchased by the user and expensed back, but not reimbursed formally by a company-established policy (i.e., expensed in the same manner as desks, calculators, pens, etc., and not as a formal mobility/wireless policy). 2, Purchased outright by the individual user, brought into the workplace, and used for either corporate application(s) directly linked to the corporation or business (e.g., corporate email, corporate PIM, CRM, FFA, and corporate intranet) or standalone business applications (e.g., office suite, financial tools, GPS/LBS, and productivity applications from online application storefronts) in addition to business-linked corporate application(s).

Consumer CMDs include those shipments attributable to individual purchase that do not meet the criteria for individual-liable business use CMDs.

For businesses, the individual-liable business use device is the great unwashed and represents strong growth and a larger portion than the corporate-liable device. IDC expects worldwide shipments of individual-liable business use devices will grow by 17.9 percent to reach 56.7 million units by 2013 and in the same year, expect that more than 56 percent of the CMDs used for business will be individual-liable business use devices.

IDC has also witnessed a trend from several large companies as they begin to move towards the individual-liable business use device model. Such a move affords a slowdown on costs and provides better choice, user control and delivers an image that IT is being progressive in enabling such choice to its worker base.

Add that to the growing number of smartphones coming on the market. Certainly the strong popularity of the iPhone, continued consumer push from RIM and large Windows Mobile OEM base drives much of the individual-liable business use in the U.S. In addition, devices such as the Palm Pre, Nokia's E Series (in particular the E71) and the new Android tide rolling in all speak to the importance of this individual-liable business use case. At the same time, ISVs and developers are working to deliver key business applications and getting business users "lit up" for devices that are not corporate owned. Microsoft's success with Exchange ActiveSync and its Direct Push email, for example has enabled IT and users alike to get corporate mobile email on not only Windows Mobile devices, but also other licensees such as Apple, Nokia and Palm. Beyond email, the concept of a private mobile storefront would enable businesses to properly build, distribute and manage applications to individual-liable business use devices.

In order for businesses to not only take advantage of the growth of individual-liable business use devices, but ensure safeguards for its users and organizations, they should heed the following:

  • Set clear boundaries as to who is eligible for a corporate-owned device and who the target individual-liable business user is. Such boundaries could be set from a business unit perspective and perhaps by title or role. And make it clear what the individual is responsible for paying.
  • Although it is critical to provide choice, invoke limits as to what devices can be used for individual-liable business use. Be specific on not only operating system but device categories, for example Windows Mobile with 50-plus OEM providers and Nokia with a large portfolio of smartphones should be whittled down to specific OEMs and platforms or device series.
  • Management and security software solutions become even more critical in these environments as organizations have less control over what devices and what content is on the device. At the point of enabling such an individual-liable business use model, mobile device management and security solutions should be in place.
  • Consider a built-in agreement policy when the individual-liable use device begins to access corporate data. Such opt-in acceptance lets the user know that IT may take some control as it relates to management and security and affords not only data safeguards for the organization, but improves liability and compliance requirements for the company.
  • Ensure enrollment of key applications and consider multiple discovery and delivery models, including a private app store or portal to enable applications by business unit or worker role.

As individual-liable business use grows it is essential for organizations to embrace early and recognize that users want personal choice and expect to use such personal devices for business use. Tackling this head on spotlights a more savvy IT organization that is looking out for costs while being progressive to its user base and empowering the mobile workforce.

Stephen Drake is the program vice president for Mobility & Telecom research at IDC. In this position, he has responsibility for the Mobile Enterprise, Mobile SMB, Mobile Device coverage, IP Communication Services and also contributes to IDC's Unified Communication research. Visit