The iOS 5.0 announcement in June unveiled the much anticipated iCloud service that enables users to synchronize their information automatically between devices. Now when you purchase a song, book, or application through iTunes (or rip your own music to your iPod) it will automatically be backed-up and copied to any other iOS or Mac OS devices you have registered for the service. It's a pretty cool addition to the platform, and will relieve a lot of consumer pain; but the corresponding announcement of an iCloud API raises some questions about how this will further impact iPhone and iPad use in the workplace.
The consumer driven enterprise
The consumerization trend in the enterprise continues to accelerate. Employees are bringing their mobile devices into the workplace and are demanding their employer take them seriously. In his forthcoming book, iPad in the Enterprise, my colleague and iPhone Life Enterprise Editor, Nathan Clevenger, spoke to scores of CEO's and CIO's about this trend. One of the most enlightening quotes came from Robert Stephens, CTO at Best Buy who observed that, "IT no longer has the unique set of knowledge about what is possible. The user now knows what they want, and now they can and will demand it from IT."
What Stephens observes is exactly the attitude that is frustrating many in the IT department when it comes to technologies like iCloud. With the release of iOS 5.0, Apple has once again shown the consumer what is possible with their iPhones and iPads, and as soon as they begin to reap the benefits of iCloud in their personal lives, they will begin to demand the same benefits at work.
Coupled with this growing demand for enterprise applications is the increased autonomy of mobile developers and the departments they work for. Individual business units within a larger organization are taking advantage of the low price and barriers to entry that the iOS Developer Program provides. Many are hiring their own developers to bring mobile applications to their workers—often completely side-stepping the IT department. The adoption of cloud-based infrastructure providers, such as Amazon Elastic Cloud and Microsoft Windows Azure, provide these business units an increased level of autonomy. Developers can spin-up their own server in the cloud with their boss's corporate card—and if they use iCloud they don't even need that. With Apple offering 5 GB of free storage for every enrollment, developers can search and store any manner of information using the iCloud document storage API. This level of developer autonomy is enabling rapid innovation of new technology, but at the same time it is eroding the traditional IT department power base and raising questions about its future.
The future of corporate IT
IT departments are facing a radical change in how they support mobile users. Organizations who resist change risk getting left behind, while those that find a way to adapt and embrace this change enhance their competitive advantage and earn the rewards of a happier, more productive workforce. One of the IT department's biggest concerns is corporate data security. The introduction of iCloud as a potential tool for enterprise applications greatly raises the risk of exposing proprietary or confidential company information. As of today, Apple hasn't announced any means for protecting iCloud information as it is synched over the public internet. Mobile Device Management vendors such as Mobile Iron or Airwatch may step in to provide some data management features, such as remote wipe, but phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks remain a real risk for use of iCloud and could prove the Achilles heel of iCloud adoption in the enterprise. Time will tell if Apple responds to these concerns, but for now iCloud is poised to create a big stir in the enterprise.