While some corporations have worried about the ability to secure and manage iPhones used by their workers, three big companies - Kraft Foods, Oracle and Amylin Pharmaceutical - are successfully deploying thousands of the Apple devices.
Market-research firm Forrester on Monday released a report that looks at several companies using the iPhone in the enterprise market.
It's a significant report for Apple, as the iPhone has been accused of lacking sufficient security for large businesses.
Based on interviews with IT executives from Kraft Foods, Oracle, and Amylin Pharmaceutical, the report explores how the iPhone made it on the list of approved devices for each company.
Todd Stewart, IT senior director at Amylin Pharmaceutical, says the iPhone has become the company's "enterprise netbook," and said the iPhone is easier to support than other mobile platforms.
"It took all of three days to get the systems running to support iPhone. We also saw significant costs savings for our voice and data plans by moving to iPhones," said Stewart.
Forrester said about 150 iPhones were used by workers at Amylin in February, but that number should grow to 650 by the end of the year. The major benefit was improved usability versus other devices, including a savings of $360 a year on voice and data plans per device per year. The biggest challenge was that battery life was a concern since workers use the iPhones for more than email, and almost as if the devices were laptops or netbooks.
Dave Diedrich, vice president of information systems at Kraft, said he used the iPhone to demonstrate that IT is serious about supporting culture change. The company has about 100,000 employees and Diedrich said that as of January 2009, almost half of the company's mobile users have iPhones. Kraft orders about 400 new iPhones each month.
Kraft identified its key benefit with allowing iPhone use as helping Kraft drive culture change by urging internal groups to "take advantage of new technologies." The biggest challenges were problems with calendar synchronisation and the work involved in moving employees from personal monthly phone accounts to corporate AT&T accounts.
And Oracle has about 4,000 employees using the iPhone globally, according to IT Vice President Campbell webb. The key benefit was Oracle IT's ability to build collaboration and business applications that workers can take with them anywhere. But the challenges are that management tools aren't mature enough.
Ted Schadler, the Forrester analyst who wrote the 12-page report on the three companies, said: "The companies say that the benefits of iPhone over other mobile devices include a happier, more productive workforce and lower support costs."
"In this era of technology populism, where consumer IT is often better than enterprise IT, it sometimes just makes sense to give employees the freedom to choose the tools they want," he added. "If an iPhone makes an employee happy, then supporting it will deliver collateral benefits of a happier workforce and a new line of communication between IT and employees."
However, not everything was rosy with iPhone deployments, Schadler noted. Combining iPhone and ActiveSync for calendering functions is still the "single biggest end user problem," he said.
His research with the three companies also showed that management and guaranteed message delivery tools are "weak" in comparison with BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Finally, there are other problems, including lack of full support for VPNs for some users, lack of cut and paste as well as Flash support. But these might be helped when the next versions of the device, iPhone 3.0, ships this summer.
Drawing a conclusion from his inquiries, Schadler said IT managers learned it was best to stay away from the device-and-mobile-plan business, meaning IT shops will be better off outsourcing responsibility for the devices, network and pricing plans to end users. IT should still retain control over device policies and device management, however, he said.
To make this process work, however, IT needs to make sure that support resources are in place at AT&T to get employees up and running with the iPhones.
He urged IT to use policy profiles to implement sound security with the iPhone. Some of the techniques that work include getting workers to purchase their own iPhones and then sign an agreement that they will abide by their employer's security policies for using PINs to access a device or agreement to allow a remote wipe of data from the device if they leave the company.
Schadler said companies should create a community-led support model and encourage self-service, such as setting up a wiki for users to consult.
Finally, he said companies considering iPhones should set up a three-month pilot program and roll out use in stages to avoid getting crushed with demand. "You may be surprised at the rush of converts and even first-time mobile users," Schadler said.
"Apple is redefining its third industry: first the computer industry, next the music industry, and now the mobile industry," said Schadler. "With iPhone, Apple has breached walled gardens that have long slowed innovation and kept advanced applications from reaching the US mobile market."